Nursing home staff and residents will remain at risk from the coronavirus for the foreseeable future, but having an emergency plan in place will make a cluster infection or outbreak less likely, according to a leading geriatrician.

In a recent editorial, Joseph G. Ouslander, M.D., past president of the American Geriatrics Society and executive editor of the Society’s journal, recommends that operators have a plan that addresses resident placement and staffing considerations, starting with:

  • Employing intensive infection control practices,
  • Behaving as if all patients and staff are potentially infected with the virus,
  • Continuing to carefully screen staff, and 
  • Recognizing that some may be asymptomatic virus carriers and will pass the screening

In addition to distancing practices and appropriate protective equipment use, clinicians should also monitor residents’ vital signs at least daily and more frequently if indicated, writes Ouslander. He proposes that subtle changes in a patient’s condition should be taken seriously and further evaluated when clinically indicated.

Clinicians must be vigilant about mental healthcare as well, he writes. Facilities should provide as much psychosocial care and support as is feasible, using social media and video phone call options when possible. Grief counseling for families and staff, as well as assistance with burial arrangements may be needed, he said.

The full editorial is available in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.