Infection control is likely among the most often discussed topics in improving senior health, as well as the health of others obtaining services from health care providers. However, seniors may have a higher risk of susceptibility to infections, which may be the result of weakened immune systems or other general health problems. Meanwhile, infection control has been in the news recently as the Zika outbreak has spread in Florida, reports NBC Miami, and the topic is gaining traction once more.  

Rather than trying to avoid infection control, you need to think about how infection control is essential to the successful care of seniors. Moreover, it should be an inherent part of any senior care training program. In other words, senior caregivers need to know how to help prevent infection transmission and what may increase the risk of transmission. Furthermore, caregivers need to know who to report infection control concerns to, and you need to understand why this should be your top priority.

 

Oversight of Infection Control Protocols

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has granted additional funding to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to improve infection control and prevention protocols across all health care settings. Consequently, CMS has started a three-year pilot program that will assess and make recommendations to changes in infection control protocols in nursing homes, hospitals and transition settings, such as short-stay physical rehabilitation, all of which are applicable to senior care as well.  

To ensure accountability and accuracy during the assessment period, CMS has determined that no citations or penalizations will be assessed to facilities during the three-year period. This was highlighted after the Ebola outbreak that resulted in the death of one man in Texas and transmission of infection to several nursing staff within the U.S. But, the most stringent of criteria revolve around care settings that are commonly associated with seniors, nursing homes.

 

Why Is CMS Focusing on Senior Care and Nursing Homes?

More than 3 million U.S. citizens require care in nursing homes annually, and up to 380,000 people die from infections contracted in nursing homes within the same time period. Some other estimates have found the infection prevalence to approach nearly 100 percent, but this finding is severely limited and based largely on assumption. However, several infections do seem to be more prevalent in nursing homes, which include the following:

  • Urinary tract infections.

  • Antibiotic-resistant staphylococcal infections.

  • Diarrheal diseases.

  • Multidrug-resistant organisms.  

  • Droplet-borne infections, such as influenza.  

 

What Are the Reporting Requirements During the Three-Year Period?

The general reporting requirements are mandated by CMS, explains the CDC, and they apply to nearly all groups of health care personnel, including senior caregivers, senior care training providers, clinicians, licensed independent practitioners, students and trainees, and volunteers. Due to the current time period, the most prevalent information reported focuses on the upcoming flu season and associated vaccination rates.  

Furthermore, reporting requirements may include data on contracted health care personnel vaccination against influenza rates. However, vaccination of contracted personnel is an optional reporting measure during the period, but reporting is required for all full-time staff members.

The reporting information for influenza vaccination, if a facility chooses to report such information, does fall into different reporting timelines. Employees working for at least one day between October 1 and March 31 will be reported on the longer, more-detailed HCP Safety Monthly Reporting Plan, but additional reporting may be sent in if the employee received the vaccination prior to October 1 and stopped working in the facility before that date. Ultimately, the data will help the CDC determine the epidemiology of the flu season.  

 

Will Nursing Homes Continue to Be Part of the Pilot Program After 2016?

The surveys on infection control throughout 2016 are expressly geared toward nursing homes, and beginning in 2017, hospitals will be surveyed as well. Although some sources suggest nursing home surveys will dwindle, CMS plans to continue nursing homes surveys in conjunction with hospital surveys throughout 2017 and 2018.  

 

What's the Next Step for Your Organization?

Since the pilot program is less than one year old, the CDC and CMS have yet to release official guidelines for general nursing home facilities. However, each surveyor has been instructed to work with infection control personnel in each surveyed facility to determine the best means of improving infection control in that specific facility. In other words, you may not have taken any specific steps associated with the survey unless your facility has already completed your survey for 2016.  

So, determining the best course of action can seem somewhat daunting at the moment, but you really only need to think about what can be improved in your facility immediately.  

For example, are gloves being used by all staff members, and if so, do staff members report problems with gloves? A common complaint may be under stocking of supplies, leaving staff members to use gloves that are too small and prone to tearing. As a result, the best action will be to re-evaluate the glove requirements of all staff members through a short survey and create a forecasted need for glove sizes and types.  

Improving infection protocols also must include changes or a review of your current senior care training for infection control and prevention. This will need to include a mention of the CMS pilot program to all staff members. Ultimately, staff members who are aware of the programs non-citation nature may be more likely to express valid concerns to a surveyor. While this may seem irrelevant, it can actually help your organization learn what is and is not working in your facility.  

 

Final Thoughts

The flu season has arrived, and the risk for infection transmission has risen. Recent events in the U.S., such as the Zika outbreak, have catalyzed changes in how facilities perceive the importance of infection control, and CMS is taking steps toward infection control reform.

In your facility or other senior care organization, you need to make sure all staff members have received the proper infection control training, and they should know who to report infection control concerns to. By making one person accountable for all infection control protocols, you can help make all staff members accountable in the goal of achieving a safer, healthier care environment.