NYC steps up infection control in nursing homes

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The New York City Department of Health is developing a new program to strengthen infection control practices in nursing homes in preparation for the next possible contagious viral outbreak, The Post has learned.

The department’s new effort also aims to control emerging variants of COVID-19 in the Big Apple’s 245 nursing homes and adult care facilities, many of which were hit hard at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

The plan will focus on training and educating nurse workers on the proper use of N95 respirator masks and other personal protective equipment, according to to a proposal sent to potential contractors who would implement the “respiratory protection program”.

The new training program for group facilities will also cover the city’s 2,000 group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

Since most nursing home residents and staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19, infection controls are aimed at curbing future viral outbreaks.
AP/Yuki Iwamura

The successful bidder will implement the enhanced infection control program at a cost of $687,339.

Many facilities were unprepared for the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in the massive spread of infection and the death of more than 15,000 nursing home residents across the state.

Some healthcare workers even complained of running out of adequate respirator masks and other PPE during the height of the outbreak in 2020. The Post, in a briefing, showed hospital nurses who carried trash bags as protection after complaining about not having medical gowns.

A controversial state policy under former Governor Andrew Cuomo also required nursing homes to agree to pick up COVID-19 patients from hospitals during the peak of the outbreak, which some analysts say contributed to the number infections and deaths among frail and vulnerable elderly residents. Cuomo and state health officials have denied any connection.

Nurses at Mt. Sinai West Hospital seen wearing garbage bags as PPE gowns in a photo posted to Facebook, March 22, 2020.
Nurses at Mt. Sinai West Hospital seen wearing garbage bags as PPE gowns on March 22, 2020.
Facebook

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed significant gaps in infection prevention and control knowledge and practice where health care is delivered,” said the Public Health Fund, the fundraising arm. nonprofit funds from the city’s health department, in a contract proposal submitted to bidders. .

“These challenges are particularly acute in long-term care and other congregate settings, nursing homes and adult care facilities, where groups of people reside, receive health care and congregate in close proximity” , indicates the proposition.

“To stop the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections, all staff in these facilities need at least a basic understanding of IPC. [infection protection and control] and how to properly use personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks and N95 respirators.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that nurses wear N95 masks, goggles, gowns and gloves when caring for people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

Protective mask on a blue wood.
The plan will focus on training and educating nursing staff on the proper use of N95 respirator masks and other personal protective equipment.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

But city officials said, “many LTCFs [long term care facilities] and other congregational venues do not have the resources to equip testing personnel or maintain a respiratory protection program (RPP).”

“A foundation of the IPC [infection protection and control] knowledge and culture of respiratory safety in all long-term care facilities [long-term care facilities] and other gathering places protect healthcare workers/non-caregivers, residents, visitors and the environment from COVID-19 and other infectious disease threats,” officials said.

“This PROJECT aims to facilitate the development, implementation and maintenance of RPPs [respiration protection programs] to minimize exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and prevent transmission of COVID-19 in high-risk long-term care facilities and congregational settings,” the proposal states.

A representative from the New York metropolitan area nursing home industry said it was smart policy and practice to improve infection control measures after COVID-19.

“There is something new that could fall on the pike. We don’t know what mother nature will bring us,” said Michael Balboni, a member of Mayor Eric Adams’ COVID-19 task force and executive director of the New York Health Care Facilities Association.

“It’s always good to assess the effectiveness of infection control protocols,” added Balboni, who represents 90 nursing homes across the city.

He noted that most nursing home residents and staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19, so infection controls are aimed at curbing future viral outbreaks.

Protesters against Governor Andrew Cuomo's handling of COVID-19 nursing home deaths gather outside the Cobble Hill Health Center nursing home on Sunday, March 21, 2021 in New York City.
Protesters against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes gather outside the Cobble Hill Health Center nursing home in 2021.
AP/David Crary

Nursing homes are regulated by the state health department, not the city health agency. But city health officials are tasked with curbing or preventing the spread of infectious diseases in the five boroughs.

Under the contract, medical consultants are required to conduct an assessment of nursing homes and other congregate facilities through a questionnaire, site visits, interviews with infection control experts, and then publish a report with recommendations outlining best practices through training programs, including online presentations.

The supplier will also hold at least 142 in-person “train-the-trainer” sessions to train nursing home safety directors on how to fit the masks, who will then train their workers on how to use them correctly. Entrepreneurs will buy the masks.

Balboni, the nursing home lobbyist, said a state health department regulation requires facilities to be well stocked with masks and other PPE.

But he said some nursing homes, particularly in the upstate, are struggling with staffing shortages, another issue that needs to be addressed by policymakers.

Balboni also said it was “high time” for an independent study to be conducted on “what worked and what didn’t” during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Governor Kathy Hochul commissioned such an analysis, but the results won’t be released until after the fall election.

Hochul, the former lieutenant governor who replaced Cuomo after the Democrat resigned in a sexual misconduct and harassment scandal a year ago, is running for election to stay on as Empire State chief executive.

The Democratic incumbent takes on Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, who has called in a special prosecutor to investigate nursing home deaths related to COVID-19.

The CDC reports 73,552 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 deaths in New York State, including 41,403 deaths in the city.

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