Nursing homes

(The Center Square) – Tuesday was an important day in Maine’s fight against the novel coronavirus.

Eighteen days had passed since the last resident of the Tall Pines long-term care facility in Waldo County had shown symptoms of the virus and tested positive, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. And the last staff member was released from isolation.

The milestones appear to end one of many tragic stories playing out in nursing homes across the country. Thirty-two residents tested positive for the novel coronavirus and 13 died. Eleven staff members tested positive.

Overall, Maine health officials have reported 65 deaths. More than half of those have been in long-term care facilities. Nationwide, about 40 percent of all deaths from coronavirus are residents from those facilities.

Gov. Janet Mills addressed the challenge of treating a highly contagious virus in a congregate setting on April 28 when she issued an emergency rule regarding nursing homes. The rule came with a long list of guidelines.

• Family members, staff, Maine health officials and residents must be notified within 24 hours when a resident meets CDC criteria for the coronavirus.

• Staff members must consult with the Maine CDC officials about infection protocols within 24 hours of a probable case and within 12 hours of learning a staff member or resident tested positive.

• Visitation is restricted and residents are only allowed to leave for essential activity.

• Communication guidelines such as video conferencing should be established so that residents can speak with family and friends.

• Staff entering the facility are screened.

• Screen all full- and part-time staff, outside essential health care workers (such as hospice staff, physicians, etc.), and any other individual entering the facility using the most current U.S. CDC screening guidance

• Staff members are provided additional personal protection equipment if they work in multiple facilities.

• Facilities must have a 72-hour supply of PPE and follow CDC guidelines for usage.

• Cleaning and sanitation should follow CDC guidelines and staff should be trained by a qualified infection preventionist.

Nursing facilities are at about 85 percent capacity and almost half of them share staff with another facility, according to health officials. Some previously reported PPE and staffing shortages.

The emergency rule is an “essential step forward in preventing outbreaks of COVID-19 in our state's nursing homes," said Maine Long-Term Care Ombudsman Brenda Gallant.

“The goal is to save lives and to protect the health and welfare of some of Maine's most vulnerable citizens, along with the staff who provide their care,” she said.