COVID-19 – Managing the Pandemic in Care Homes

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The British Geriatrics Society have published guidance on Managing the COVID-19 pandemic in care homes, with the following key recommendations:

  1. Care homes should have in place standard operating procedures for individual residents with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 infection, including appropriate infection control precautions to protect staff and residents.
  2.  Care home staff should be trained to check the temperature of residents displaying possible signs of COVID-19 infection, using a tympanic thermometer (inserted into the ear).
  3. Where possible, care home staff should be trained to measure other vital signs including blood pressure, heart rate, pulse oximetry and respiratory rate. This will enable external healthcare practitioners to triage and prioritise support of residents according to need.
  4. All staff working with care home residents should recognise that COVID-19 may present atypically in this group. It may be necessary to use barrier precautions for residents with atypical symptoms following discussion with General Practitioners or other primary healthcare professionals.
  5. Where possible, primary care clinicians should share information on the level of frailty of residents (mild, moderate, severe frailty) with care homes, and use the Clinical Frailty Scale to help inform urgent triage decisions.
  6. If taking vital signs, care homes should use the RESTORE2 tool to recognise deterioration in residents, measure vital signs and communicate concerns to healthcare professionals.
  7. Care homes should have standard operating procedures for isolating residents who ‘walk with purpose’ (often referred to as ‘wandering’) as a consequence of cognitive impairment. Behavioural interventions may be employed but physical restraint should not be used.
  8. Care homes should work with General Practitioners, community healthcare staff and community geriatricians to review Advance Care Plans as a matter of urgency with care home residents. This should include discussions about how COVID-19 may cause residents to become critically unwell, and a clear decision about whether hospital admission would be considered in this circumstance.
  9. Care homes should be aware that escalation decisions to hospital will be taken in discussion with paramedics, general practitioners and other healthcare support staff. They should be aware that transfer to hospital may not be offered if it is not likely to benefit the resident and if palliative or conservative care within the home is deemed more appropriate. Care Homes should work with healthcare providers to support families and residents through this.
  10.  Advance Care Plans must be recorded in a way that is useful for healthcare professionals called in an emergency situation. A paper copy should be filed in the care home records and, where the facility already exists, an electronic version used which can be shared with relevant services.
  11. Care homes should remain open to new admissions as much as possible throughout the pandemic. They should be prepared to receive back care home residents who are COVID positive and to isolate them on return, as part of efforts to ensure capacity for new COVID cases in acute hospitals. They should follow the advice from Public Health England when accepting residents without COVID back when there are confirmed COVID cases within a home.
  12. Care homes should work with GPs and local pharmacists to ensure that they have a stock of anticipatory medications and the community prescription chart, to enable, at short notice, palliative care for residents.
  13. All professionals should consider setting up multiprofessional local or regional WhatsApp groups, or other similar fora, to provide support to care home staff who may feel isolated and worried by the pandemic.