If you want to cause panic on an airplane, yell “Bomb!” If you want to cause panic among the staff of a senior living community, mention that you suspect a case of norovirus.

Arguably, norovirus is the single biggest source of chaos and upheaval in any assisted or skilled nursing community — especially during the holiday season. Reducing incidents of norovirus is a primary goal of staff at all senior care communities, and especially those who specialized in skilled nursing care. In 2014, some of us at Christian Living Communities re-analyzed the impacts of the virus on our communities and decided to develop the Norovirus Prevention Guide. Since it has been implemented, this guide has reduced outbreaks at CLC communities by 83%.

This new effort was spurred in large part in response to the holiday season of 2014. During that year, we experienced six separate outbreaks of norovirus in three of our Christian Living Communities. The impact was devastating. We essentially had to cancel Christmas at one community, which was heartbreaking, and we watched the illness severely limit family interactions at various of our other locations. We knew we could do better.

CLC’s work culture is built on an environment of collaboration and innovation, so we assembled an interdisciplinary team to improve efficiency and speed of reaction time to norovirus throughout the CLC system. An assessment of the situation revealed that each of our communities was doing things differently. What we needed were a set of consistent and effective virus-fighting tactics that could be used in every community.

To create a standardized plan of attack, our team spent hundreds of hours of intensive work, research and collaborative partnership to create guidelines for treating an outbreak. Our goal was to provide quick and straightforward information on what products to use, how often to clean and why certain methods do and don’t work. We were able to implement the Norovirus Prevention Guide across CLC before the next flu season.

The results have made for happier and healthier communities and residents. With easy access to a hands-on guide, we’ve found that our staff know exactly where to turn when they see symptoms of noro, and they are able to respond consistently and quickly to contain the virus. Since 2014 CLC has experienced just one, much less severe Norovirus outbreak in only one of our large life plan communities. In general, norovirus cases across our communities have reduced by 83%.

Through the Norovirus Prevention Guide, our CLC team members are provided easy and accessible guidance on:

  • How to identify norovirus symptoms early
  • Immediate isolation procedures for individuals suspected of having the illness
  • Best practices including the specific products and equipment to have on-hand at all times
  • Which EPA-registered disinfection products are most effective
  • Guidelines for outbreak investigation and documentation
  • Lessons via examples and case-study scenarios gleaned from past outbreaks

The 125-page guide includes tools and resources for every aspect of living and working in a community. It includes guidance tailored to each staff position and team, from tips for the leadership team as they communicate with family members and public as well as straightforward steps for the concierge and nursing teams to clean and isolate the virus.

It’s been such a success for us, that now we’re offering the prevention guide for fellow senior living communities to use through CLC’s management and consulting division, Cappella Living Solutions. The prevention guide can be purchased as a stand-alone tool or another option is available that includes implementation consulting including how to achieve “buy in” from each community department. It will be updated each year to best address the current strain of norovirus.

Having outbreaks severely restricts people from moving freely, reduces time spent with family and friends and it’s always very expensive for the communities affected. While it’s hard to assign a dollar value to the cost of norovirus outbreaks, we also know firsthand that outbreaks often strain community budgets with increased overtime, agency usage, halting admissions, increased re-admissions, the cost of medical and isolation supplies. Having a tool kit at your fingertips to quickly and efficiently address a Noro outbreak is a cost savings of thousands of dollars. Our hope is that it will help fellow assisted and skilled care communities effectively combat the virus and remain open and healthy, especially during this holiday season.

The guide is available for purchase here.

Pat McBride works as Vice-President of Clinical and Compliance for Capella Living Solutions, a service of Christian Living Communities (CLC). Since 1972, Christian Living Communities (CLC) has been providing quality senior care to the south Denver metropolitan area, across Colorado and into Missouri and Illinois.