The impact of COVID-19 on transitional and long-term care facilities will reverberate long after the pandemic itself is under control. While the immediate task is to maintain current coronavirus safety protocols until a vaccine is available, the adaptations made over the past year will help pave the way forward. A strong partnership with your pharmaceutical distributor can provide valuable insights to help you focus on progress over the long term.
Improvements in COVID-19 treatment
When COVID-19 patients started to overwhelm hospitals across the country, critical care professionals were faced with treating a disease that seemed to defy treatment. The best they could do was try to manage symptoms. As critically ill patients struggled to breathe, they were put on ventilators and given palliative care. Many died, especially older adults.
As scientists and medical professionals learned more about COVID-19, they began to find ways to treat the virus that took less of a physical toll on patients. As of late 2020, ventilator use is now a last resort rather than a common practice. While symptom management still is the focus of treatment, the goal is to have as many patients as possible recover in their homes. And when “home” is an LTC facility, unique factors come into play for staff and residents alike.
Making adjustments for different care needs
Long-term care facilities have faced the challenge of providing care for those who no longer require critical care in the hospital but do have acute care needs. In some places, “pop-up” units have opened to provide such care, with the goal of meeting the needs of patients still suffering the effects of COVID-19 before they are able to return to residential facilities. More commonly, patients are left with chronic conditions after recovery from the virus. As the industry looks to the future, managing those patients remains a focus. Your distributor may be able to help ease the logistical side of the burden by improving inventory management for in-demand drugs and supplies.
Ensuring safety of staff and other residents during recovery
Every facility must develop a set of criteria for determining when recovered COVID-19 patients can safely return to the general population. In the short term, testing and retesting are essential. Working closely with your distributor can help you understand what to expect in terms of what supplies and inventory you will need. Beyond that, your facility can evaluate how best to manage any remaining medical issues while reducing the risk to the staff or other residents. In most cases, that means maintaining strict infection control protocols and keeping symptomatic patients isolated until their COVID-19 status is confirmed.
The importance of family
One of the most difficult challenges for transitional care facilities during the pandemic has been maintaining connections between residents and their loved ones. As cases spike, facilities restrict visitors, including family members. The strain on staff and families is burdensome, and residents who rely on the support of family often don’t understand why their loved ones stopped visiting.
Fortunately, virtual visitation allows families to stay in touch. Most residential facilities have sufficient devices and internet capabilities to give every resident access to the outside world. This innovation is likely to continue post-COVID in long-term care facilities. Other solutions include installing transparent barriers that allow face-to-face interaction between patients and visitors while mitigating risk on both sides. Your health system supply distributor has a broad perspective of the industry and can serve as a sounding board for risk-mitigation strategies.
A qualified staff is, as it always has been, the foundation of long-term care. During the pandemic, the challenges of sustaining such a team were formidable. Long hours of caring for critically ill patients took a brutal toll on frontline medical workers at every level. But the dedication of caregiving professionals is such that few left the field. Long-term care facilities that always have prioritized the safety of residents must take care to ensure that the staff also is confident of their safety. Besides enforcing recommended COVID-19 protection measures like handwashing, social distancing and mask wearing, facilities should encourage employees to bring any safety concerns to management.
One worrisome side effect of stay-at-home mandates during the pandemic has been a delay in routine medical procedures. Wellness visits and diagnostic tests are important to overall health as well as identification of chronic conditions that can increase the risk of COVID-19. Getting routine vaccinations is also important, as the immune system may be lower due to less contact with other people. Flu vaccines are especially important.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed strengths as well as shortcomings in long-term care. It has also proven how resilient the industry is. Learning from the crisis — including tapping into the insights and analytics of a knowledgeable distributor — enables facilities to offer the best care to patients and the safest environment for providing it.
Barbara Giacomelli, PharmD., MBA, is vice president of strategy and marketing for McKesson RxO. She has over 30 years of experience in health system pharmacies and is a member of the McKesson Critical Care Drug Task Force.