Top 3 Questions for Being a Savvy Consumer of Senior Care

Question the Infection (Rate)

A clean facility is an infection prevention tool. Here are things to ask about and look for when choosing senior care. Question the infection rate!. Photodisc

Just 30 years ago, the view of an individual who lived in a skilled nursing facility (SNF) conjured up images of an elderly patient confined to a bed.   But not any longer.  The concept of “continuing care communities” sprung into existence.  Hallways crowded with wheelchairs and walkers have been replaced by carpeted corridors that invite life to be celebrated – not confined to four walls and an occasional game of checkers.

What changed?  Yesterday’s “patient” became today’s “resident.”   This has been driven in a large part by the consumerization of healthcare.   Along with their families, residents are playing an increasingly active role in their healthcare decisions and are evermore empowered to choose their own continuing care options.   There is perhaps no better time to set your standards high.  Actively seek a facility that incorporates quality of care, convenience and commitment to gaining your loyalty across all possible touch points of the “consumer experience.”

I’m not just talking about fast, friendly service and a 5-star resort atmosphere.  Dare to dig deeper.  There are lots of good resources available to help you weed out the right SNF or assisted living residence, but one aspect that you may not have considered is the facility’s commitment to infection prevention and control

Put Infection Control High on Your List

Given the prevalence of  MRSA, C-diff, Norovirus and influenza in continuing care facilities and emerging new viruses like EV-D68 and Ebola which are swiftly becoming major public health threats, infection control is not to be taken lightly in any care setting.   New antibiotic-resistant superbugs, deadly viruses and “nightmare bacteria” are draining today’s healthcare system by resulting in infectious outbreaks that cost billions of dollars and take thousands of lives every year. These highly resistant organisms are outpacing the medical community’s ability to detect, prevent and eradicate them. 

Most SNFs adhere to rigorous hand-washing practices and surface disinfectant procedures to tackle potential outbreaks and prevent contamination.  This is the right place to start, but more must be done.  Research shows that these practices don’t necessarily arrest the further dissemination of airborne viruses spread by tiny droplets that can live long after cleaning agents evaporate.   In fact, a recent study completed by MIT researchers and funded by the National Science Foundation found that gas clouds related to coughs and sneezes keep potentially infectious droplets in the air and travel over greater distances than previously believed.  The research identified that smaller droplets, borne out of a cough or sneeze, may become airborne and travel five to 200 times farther than they would if those same droplets simply moved as groups of unconnected particles.

Ask the Tough Questions

As an informed consumer concerned about your healthcare, ask the tough questions.  In addition to the other criteria you may be evaluating as you compare continuing care facilities, inquire about: 

  1. What is the facility’s infection control policy?
    1. Aside from traditional protocols for controlling infectious outbreaks that include hand washing and surface cleaning,  ask the facility whether their infection prevention program goes the next step by  “cleansing” the air? What is being done to reduce airborne pathogens inherent in common viruses, along with bacteria, pathogens, mold, allergens and other harmful organisms?
  2. What is the readmission rate of residents to hospitals due to infections?
    1. The response is a big clue on whether the facility is doing enough to keep residents healthy and out of the hospital.  Is it taking every precaution possible to ensure that should you require care at the facility following treatment at a hospital that you won’t be returning anytime soon?  The American Health Care Association indicates that 1 in 4 Medicare patients will return to the hospital within 30 days during their SNF stay.  Most likely you don’t want to be part of that statistic.
  3. How does the residence handle visitors who show symptoms of illness (i.e. coughing, sneezing, etc.)?
    1. Facilities using airborne pathogen reduction technology are considered current edge care centers providing residents, families and staff with a cleaner, more pathogen-free and healthier environment.   This type of technology can “blanket” the entire facility with a defensive layer that helps keep infections at bay with clean air that flows freely throughout.  You need to ensure the center is looking out for your best interests by protecting your health against any possible contamination from outside visitors or healthcare workers with whom you come into contact. 

    Remember, no matter how beautiful, friendly or accommodating the facility, what lingers in the air presents an invisible threat that requires a more diligent approach to closing the loop on infection control.  Asking the right questions, getting the right answers and being the most informed health consumer you can be will help you make right decision about your own long-term care or the care of a loved one.

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