Protecting long term care patients from infection by educating, vaccinating staff

By Erika Blaskay, R.N.

It is no secret that long-term care facilities (LTCs) contended with massive barriers and suffered great loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  To date, the death toll of LTC residents in Michigan hovers around 5,600 since the pandemic began.  In a population that isn’t typically out and about in the community, and during a time when visitors were not permitted, how was COVID-19 able to be spread?  Research points to LTC staff bringing disease in from the surrounding community, so it is clear that current, evidence-based infection control policies must be in place in LTC facilities at all times… not just during a pandemic.  In an interview for Doctors Without Borders, local physician Dr. Buffy Lloyd-Krejci stated that more than 1,000 LTC residents die daily in the United States from preventable infections.  Lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic show that it is now more important than ever that LTCs are prepared to face outbreaks proactively, rather than reactively.  This will help better protect both residents and staff in case a pandemic happens again.

Preparing for outbreaks in a facility starts with staff education and addressing high rates of vaccine hesitancy—the two main objectives of my fellowship project.  The aim of my Albert Schweitzer Fellowship project is to decrease overall communicable disease rates in LTC facilities in Detroit through promoting staff education, staff accountability, and improving staff vaccination rates.  Using data collection methods such as staff surveys, interviews, and direct observation on the units, my project involves tailoring education programs specifically to fit the needs of the individual facility.

While education is one key piece of the puzzle of improving infection rates, it is also important that anyone who can receive vaccines, such as COVID-19 and influenza, do so in order to protect the vulnerable LTC population.  This can be achieved not only through proper staff education, but administrators, who already have the trust of staff, should lead by example to help combat rampant vaccine misinformation on social media. As of today, only about 53% of LTC staff in Michigan have completed their vaccine series against COVID-19, putting us in 38th place in the nation….not great! Increasing staff vaccination rates, in conjunction with high-quality, evidence-based education programs specifically tailored to the needs of staff are important tools for helping prevent the spread of not only COVID-19 but other infectious diseases by staff to vulnerable residents.

In observance of World Humanitarian Day, Aug. 19, Detroit Albert Schweitzer Fellows posted commentaries about their humanitarian projects.