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Study Finds Infections Are Increasing At Nursing Homes

hospice-1753585_1280-300x200.jpgA study from the Columbia School of Nursing found that infections are a leading cause of death and complication in nursing home residents. The study argues that these trends will continue unless nursing homes adopt proper hygiene practices.

Nursing Homes

Nursing homes, as opposed to hospitals, are long-term care facilities designed to assist the elderly. Nursing homes are often equipped with certified nursing assistants and at least one nurse. The staff administers medications, washes the residents, cleans their rooms, feeds them, and provides other general care.

Therefore nursing homes fulfill an important role, a role that is only going to grow in importance into the 21st century. Every week there is at least one headline discussing the massive number of people reaching retirement age and older. Current facilities are insufficient to care for the expected influx, therefore, nursing homes will only grow in importance.

The Study

The study analyzed data submitted by various nursing homes to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from 2006 to 2010. The study found, "across the board" (except tuberculosis), all infections are on the rise in nursing homes.

The study identified the following infections:

  • Viral hepatitis;
  • Septicemia;
  • Pneumonia;
  • Urinary tract infections;
  • Wound infections;
  • Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA);
  • And other drug-resistant bacterial infections.

In short, just about every possible infectious disease are increasingly infecting more and more nursing home residents.

The Results

Pneumonia and urinary tract infections were the most common infections. However, viral hepatitis infections increased the most rapidly, at 48 percent. Multiple-drug resistant bacterial infection rates rose a further 17 percent.

Even the most common diseases, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections registered a measurable increase. Urinary tract infections are increased by 1 percent while pneumonia infection rates rose by 11 percent.

Suggested Solutions

The study cautions that further research is necessary to address the specific sources of the infections and to suggest proper procedures to mitigate them. However, the researchers preliminarily suggest a few fixes. At the very least, the researchers believe this will arm families with more information while they research potential nursing home for their loved ones.

For example, urinary tract infections can be prevented through the use of urinary catheters, increased bathroom trips, and adult diapers. However, urinary catheters are also a common source of other infections. Therefore, they must be applied carefully.

These topics may sound taboo, placing the elderly in diapers. However, they are necessary to provide care.

Another easy fix suggested by the researchers are more rigorous hand sanitizing procedures. Nursing homes should impress on their staff the necessity of frequent and thorough hand washes. Moreover, nursing homes should provide hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the facility to encourage use.

The Problem

Unfortunately, nursing home residents are a particularly vulnerable segment of society. A younger healthy adult should survive many of these infections (with medication), nursing home residents could pass away due to the simple flu or urinary tract infection.

Many of these people will live longer and with more chronic conditions, for example, diabetes. Diabetes patients suffer from a weakened immune system and are particularly vulnerable to infection. Simple infections could lead to serious complications or even death.

These weakened conditions require that nursing homes operate a peak level of efficiency and care. However, many nursing home assistants and attendants are underpaid and poorly trained. Telling nursing home that they need to wash their hands more, and revamping the entire industry are two different problems.

For instance, many nursing home assistants are paid minimum wage but spend the majority of the time with the residents. The staff who are best placed to reduce infection rates are paid very little. Moreover, if nursing homes were to raise wages and attract more qualified candidates, that could exclude many of the elderly that benefit the most from nursing homes.

Nursing homes are already prohibitively expensive. Many people cannot afford to live in one without Medicare or Medicaid supplements. If nursing homes across the board raised their standards, prices would inevitably increase. Furthermore, prices per resident would increase while the number of nursing homes expands to meet the demand needs of retiring Baby Boomers.

Interviewing Nursing Homes

First, families should inquire about hygiene practices. Families considering nursing homes should not be afraid to ask pointed and detailed questions regarding the practice, i.e. how often, using what type of soap, and the number of cleaning stations. Moreover, individuals can also notice the number of hand sanitizer stations, the more prevalent, the better, and the cleaner the facility.

Second, residents need to be regularly turned and taken on supervised walks. Residents can develop bed sores and other infections if they are not frequently moved. Individuals should ask nursing homes the schedule, number of staff, and standard procedures regarding resident care.

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