Care home residents are among the most vulnerable in society. The consequences of illnesses at any time of the year can be severe which is why care homes are always vigilant. But seasonal illnesses such as Norovirus and Influenza present an additional risk during the winter months. Illnesses like these peak over winter because the colder weather allows the viruses that cause them to persist. At the same time, people generally spend more time indoors which makes it easier for illnesses to spread.
Our “Are You Ready?” campaign offers advice and guidance to help homes protect their residents and give the best possible care.
Let’s start by looking at some of the risks.
Residents: any outbreak has the potential to have severe consequences for residents. Illnesses such as Influenza and Norovirus are bad enough for those fortunate to have good health and strong immune systems. But for people who are generally frail or have an underlying health issue – including the elderly – these illnesses can be life-threatening.
Added Costs/Lower Revenues: at the very least, care homes affected by an outbreak will need to introduce additional cleaning measures to eliminate the causes and prevent further infections. This costs money, takes time and may mean rooms are out of use and therefore not generating income. In more extreme cases the outbreak might be investigated by regulators. The home could be forced to close individual rooms, sections or even the whole facility until the cause of an outbreak is eliminated.
Bad Publicity: the Christmas period should be a happy time for residents, visitors and staff. Any outbreak – or even the suggestion of an outbreak – can be bad news at the best of times. But this is especially so at this time of the year when people want to celebrate with friends and family. Nobody wants to associate and remember a happy time with illness and suffering. Bad publicity whether through word-of-mouth, social media, review websites, or in the mainstream media can cause long-lasting damage to the care home’s reputation which can be hard to win back.
Staff Shortages: if employees become ill they will need time off work. At this time of the year that can be bad news because it won’t be easy to find temporary replacements at short notice, especially if the person is highly skilled or experienced. Staff shortages place additional pressure on the remaining employees. This raises the risk of corners cut and mistakes made that can impact on the good service and the reputation of the care home. On top of this, staff who become ill can also spread their infections to colleagues and residents before they show any symptoms. This makes it doubly important to ensure all staff follow the best possible personal hygiene practices to minimise the risk of becoming ill.
Care homes quite rightly take the safety of their residents seriously at all times of the year. But during the peak Christmas and New Year season, additional vigilance will help provide the maximum protection against the risks. There is a clear and established link between the spread of illnesses, personal hygiene and surface cleaning. Around 80 per cent of illnesses are spread by personal contact or by touching a contaminated surface or object. Here are a few simple infection prevention steps for care homes to help avoid the risk of catching and spreading illnesses:
- Check that residents and staff have been immunised against Influenza
- Make sure staff understand the risks of seasonal illness
- Check staff understand the correct cleaning and hygiene processes and products to use
- Ensure staff wash their hands between different tasks
- Staff should wash their hands before helping a different resident
- Everyone should always wash hands after visiting the toilet
- Place portable and/or wall-mounted hand hygiene dispensers at convenient locations throughout the home
- Give staff their own portable bottle of hand disinfectant
- Choose hand hygiene products that are suitable for frequent use
- Clean frequent-touch surfaces such as door handles, light switches, remote controls, touchscreens, table-tops and so on as often as possible
- Use surface sanitisers that are simple, effective and suitable for a wide range of surfaces
- Keep a spill kit in a convenient location to deal with body spills quickly, easily and professionally so as to protect guests and employees