Updated March 5, 2020 - 7:01 am
As COVID-19 continues to spread, local nursing homes and other long-term healthcare facilities have started using preventative measures to keep residents healthy.
At least 11 people have died from the coronavirus in the U.S., as of Wednesday evening. Most were residents of a nursing home in Seattle.
Some facilities in Las Vegas may eventually enforce limits on visitation, according to Daniel Mathis, CEO of Las Vegas-based healthcare management company PureCare Living.
“They might not be able to see their loved ones, but they’ll keep their loved ones safer,” he said.
A susceptible demographic
The Las Vegas valley is home to a number of people in long-term healthcare facilities.
According to a 2019 report from the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, nearly 15 percent of residents in the Las Vegas valley are 65 and over. Data from the Nevada Care for Assisted Living shows there are 64 skilled nursing facilities in Nevada, and 37 in Clark County alone.
Some of these residents may be more susceptible to COVID-19, especially if they have existing respiratory issues.
“Just like the regular seasonal flu, the very young and the very elderly population can be susceptible to such a virus,” said Brett Salmon, president and CEO of the Nevada Health Care Association and Nevada Care for Assisted Living. “That’s why we are in close communication with (state and federal health agencies) … to ensure we have the latest information and resources available.”
According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 5 million Americans are admitted to or reside in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities. There are between 1 million and 3 million serious infections in these facilities every year, resulting in as many as 380,000 annual deaths.
As of Wednesday, there were no confirmed cases of the virus in Nevada. Salmon said he’s not sure what sort of impact it will have in the state, but said the organization is doing its best to be “sensitive to the potential extra care needed needed during this time.”
Focusing on prevention
Salmon said the association has shared guidance from the CDC with every skilled nursing and assisted living facility it could reach.
The national public health institute suggests long-term healthcare facilities allow employees to stay home if they have symptoms; support hand hygiene and cough etiquette; put alcohol-based hand rub in every resident room; and post signs at entrances telling people to not visit if they have symptoms of a respiratory infection, among other guidance.
“The best plan of action is prevention,” Mathis said.
Mathis said he’s taking the CDC suggestions seriously. His facilities have already put up signs on doors, started screening employees heavily for symptoms and has supported hygiene measures like washing hands and having people “cough like Dracula.”
Even so, Mathis is concerned the virus will spread to Nevada. If that does happen, he would expect local long-term healthcare facilities to enforce restrictions on visits, instead of allowing guests to limit visitation on a voluntary basis.
Mathis said residents would still be able to communicate regularly with family through channels like phone calls, texts and video chat apps.
“If (the virus) continues to spread … that could be a more serious problem,” he said. “The sooner we take (precautionary) steps, the safer the licensed facilities are.”