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Coronavirus – Preparedness For Senior Living Communities And Nursing Homes

Healthcare Alert | March 17, 2020
By: Kevin C. Cottone, Rafael Vergara and Robert Wright

Disruption caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) could impact the way senior living communities, such as assisted living residences and nursing homes, run their facilities. Medical and legal issues should be considered in the way facilities plan to deal with the impact.

The virus poses an increased risk to people of advanced age, especially if they also have an underlying chronic medical condition. Accordingly, facilities that house seniors should take precautions to reduce the risk of the virus infecting their vulnerable populations.

The CDC website provides guidance on measures for long-term care facilities and nursing homes that should be considered by any facility housing seniors. Legal advice may be needed in either creating facility measures or implementing them. Facilities could face legal implications if they ignore things such as maintaining the privacy of their residents, especially since media attention may focus on the facilities. Overall, some of the important measures a facility might consider include:

  • Continue employing the measures used to deal with other respiratory viruses, such as influenza;
  • Establish an emergency planning team with assigned spheres of responsibility;
  • Review and/or update preparedness plans addressing operational risks (e.g., unavailability of employees or critical supplies) and financial risks;
  • Assign responsibility for obtaining outside information and also the distribution of information within the facility;
  • Assign responsibility for monitoring and maintaining supply and equipment needs;
  • Limit non-medically necessary visitation;
  • Where visitation is permitted, for example in a compassionate end-of-life situation, implement measures for reducing the risk posed by visitors;
  • Cancel group events, such as group dining or activities;
  • Consider if it is advisable to have residents stay in their rooms;
  • Watch for symptoms such as cough, fever and shortness of breath in residents and personnel;
  • Plan for establishing education for personnel and residents on the risk that exists and what is being done to mitigate risk;
  • Plan for procedures to deal with staffing issues that might arise;
  • Contact the health department if there are concerns of infection that cannot be handled at the facility level;
  • Consider employment policies and how they are impacted; and
  • Consider potential privacy obligations owed to residents and staff, especially concerning diagnosis and contacts.

COVID-19 poses unique and difficult challenges to long-term care facilities and nursing homes that implicate medical, operational and legal issues. Continuing to plan ahead and stay abreast of an ever-changing situations can help mitigate the virus’s negative impact on facilities.

If you have questions or would like further information, please contact Kevin C. Cottone (cottonek@whiteandwilliams.com; 215.864.7108), Rafael Vergara (vergarar@whiteandwilliams.com; 212.631.4416), Robert Wright (wrightr@whiteandwilliams.com; 212.631.4402) or another member of the Healthcare Group.

This correspondence should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult a lawyer concerning your own situation and legal questions.
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