Keeping Care Homes Safe This Christmas

By John Earle, Director of Aster International (www.asterinternational.com)

COVID-19 is a cruel virus that for the last ten months has torn families apart all over the country. Those that have suffered the most are our elderly who have been most at risk from the coronavirus while being denied the simple pleasure of human con- tact with their loved ones – the separation has been painful for all.

Care homes have found them- selves on the frontier of fighting Covid-19 and their next challenge is how to keep residents and staff safe over the festive period as they open their doors to families balancing infection control with the benefits of the mental health and well-being of their residents.

We all know that it is impossible to eliminate risk entirely, but now thanks to the government’s promised expansion of testing capacity and a huge delivery of free PPE, families can be more safely reunited this Christmas assuming of course that the allocations meet the requirements of the sector.

Testing is fundamental and will permit care homes to open their doors more easily, although it will remain essential that visitors wear personal protective equipment, follow social distancing rules, good hand hygiene and minimise contact to reduce the risk of transmission.

ESTABLISH AND COMMUNICATE A ROBUST VISITING POLICY

All care home managers will have put in place good strategies for the prevention, preparedness, detection and management of a possible outbreak, but the increased visitor traffic means it’s even more important to establish a robust visiting policy and communicate it clearly to visiting families to ensure that they stringently follow the infection prevention and control procedures at all times.

Visiting policy may involve new physical barriers and social distancing, however this may be confusing for older people with cognitive impairment, so considering the individual needs of each resident is of paramount importance to reduce the potential for transmission.
ADDITIONAL PRECAUTIONS TO MINIMISE RISK

In addition to the protocols and equipment originally adopted to meet early Covid infection control there are now new additional precautions that can be taken to minimise infection risk. These include technology such as UVC room protection, improved testing and better PPE products. These options provide a safer environment, reduce staff workload and cost.

Covid-19 particles are airborne which means if we can control the air we breathe, we can minimise the spread of the virus. Properly ventilated rooms go a long way to providing a secure environment and care home managers should consider how best to do this in their particular environments.

As the World Health Organisation and the medical community gets a better handle on how to control and manage the risks, care homes could deploy extra layers of sanitisation to safeguard the residents, staff and visitors.

Sanitisation remains one of the cornerstones of protecting and safe-guarding public places where people may come into close contact.

Technology exists and is already used in medical environments to sanitise, not just the surfaces, but also the atmosphere, ie. the very air that we breath.

Machines draw in contaminated air to a UV-C light which in turn destroys unwanted particles. When run constantly these can continuously disinfect the air and surfaces.

It takes bacteria only 10 minutes to multiply, so the inactivation of contaminated particles at 99% after 2 hours of switching on this machine creates a protective shield from the virus.

Now that visits by relatives are being made possible, in addition to pre visit testing, it is possible to completely sanitise meeting rooms rapidly, before and after visits with “deep clean” systems that are both afford- able and hands free.

Many other advances are being made, for example in PPE, studies at Cambridge University have enabled the development of an antimicrobial face mask with a unique nano-coating which is believed to kill 98% of pathogens – bacteria and viruses, including the coronavirus. The study shows that 95% of viral particles introduced to the fabric were killed within one hour and nearly 100% after four hours.

Having access to best in class products and equipment may not be always possible but many companies are willing to work with the sector to make care homes safer, after all, occasional visits to our loved ones should not be limited to Christmas, but ideally should continue through the winter as we continue to wrestle with this deadly virus.

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