On Notice: What Constitutes Pandemic Preparedness in Long Term Care Today

Few people were prepared for the coronavirus pandemic, and that includes many assisted living facilities. This is the time to assess what went wrong and how to achieve true pandemic preparedness going forward.

Few people were prepared for the coronavirus pandemic, and that includes many assisted living facilities. Thanks to a better understanding of the virus and an effective vaccine, the worst may be behind us. However, it is only a matter of time until the next pandemic strikes. This is the time to assess what went wrong and how to achieve true pandemic preparedness going forward.

Assisted Living Facility Deaths May Have Been Undercounted

During the pandemic, there has been a lot of focus (and data) on nursing homes. However, according to a KFF report from 2020, assisted living facilities were largely overlooked. Even though more than 800,000 vulnerable seniors lived in these facilities, the lack or regulation and reporting made it more difficult to determine the extent of COVID’s impact.

This does not mean that the impact was not significant. The CDC has said that older adults are more likely to experience serious illness from COVID-19. People who are 85 and older have the highest risk, but adults in their 50s, 60s, 70s and early 80s also have increased risk.

It’s not just COVID, either. Older adults tend to be more vulnerable to infections in general. According to Helio, this is because older adults often experience a weakening of their immune system, frailty and an increase in comorbidities. Furthermore, older adults with comorbidities are more likely to live in assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

This means that when the next pandemic strikes, older adults and those living in assisted living facilities in particular will probably be hit hard again.

Preparing for a Pandemic

Assisted living facilities may not be subject to the same regulations as nursing homes, but this does not mean they have no liability. COVID has prompted lawsuits over deaths, vaccine requirements and discrimination claims in many industries, including the assisted living sector. For example, according to McKnights Senior Living, a Texas-based assisted living and memory care operator was sued over claims of wrongful death and gross negligence in connection to the death of an employee.

The COVID pandemic may have taken assisted living facilities by surprise, but at this point, there’s no reason not to be prepared. The lessons from the last two years can help organizations strengthen their policies so they can reduce their liability and protect their workers and residents.

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