The coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, continues to be front page news across the country and around the world. Perhaps surprisingly, no single place in the U.S. has been affected more profoundly than a skilled nursing facility right here in Kirkland, Washington, in the backyard of AgingOptions’ headquarters. Stories of illness among residents and staff, and the tragic deaths of 10 residents as of March 5th, have led to frightening headlines and caused fear among residents (and their families) in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Because this topic affects us all, we wanted to share one national article describing what long-term care facilities are doing to help stem the tide of coronavirus infection. These ominous headlines might also cause you to stop and consider where and how you want to live out your own life as you age.
Coronavirus Outbreak in Kirkland Has Alerted Elder Care Facilities Nationwide
One of the more level-headed articles we’ve read about the implications of the Kirkland outbreak is this one published a few days ago by Kaiser Health News. “An outbreak of coronavirus disease in a nursing home near Seattle is prompting urgent calls for precautionary tactics at America’s elder care facilities,” the article begins, “where residents are at heightened risk of serious complications from the illness because of the dual threat of age and close living conditions.” Kaiser reports that the facility, Life Care Center of Kirkland, experienced a rapid spread of the coronavirus that by last Monday (when the article appeared) had left four residents dead and others hospitalized.
In updating this fast-changing story, we also looked at this Seattle Times article published just a few days later that revised the Kirkland death toll. By Tuesday evening seven residents had died out of a total of nine statewide, and by Thursday three more had died. These deaths and other evidence of contagion at Life Care Center, the Times reported, had prompted “a wave of questions from family members with relatives inside Life Care and scrutiny over how prepared the care facility and others are for an outbreak. Health experts warn that nursing homes and other assisted living facilities are especially vulnerable.”
Coronavirus Outbreak Shows Vulnerability of Nursing Home Populations
The Kaiser article reports that Life Care Center officials have responded with tight restrictions. “Visits from families, volunteers and vendors have been halted and new admissions placed on hold,” executive director Ellie Basham said in a statement. She also wrote, “Current residents and associates are being monitored closely, and any with symptoms or who were potentially exposed are quarantined.”
There are presently 2.2 million people living in U.S. nursing homes, Kaiser reports, and while the Kirkland outbreak is the first of its type in the country, it’s highly unlikely that it will be the last. The combination of an elderly resident population, many with underlying health conditions, living in close proximity to one another in an environment where hands-on care is required creates an ideal environment for illness to spread. King County public health official Dr. Jeff Duchin told Kaiser Health News, “We are very concerned about an outbreak in a setting where there are many older people.”
Coronavirus Outbreak More Dangerous to Older, Frailer Patients
The most recent statistics available as of a few days ago report that COVID-19 has infected over 98,000 people worldwide. Just over 55,000 of those have reportedly recovered from the virus which triggers flu-like symptoms including respiratory problems, cough, muscle aches and fever. The worldwide death toll approached 3,400 a few days ago. For comparison, flu deaths to date during this season have exceeded 86,000 worldwide.
For people age 50 and younger, the likelihood that the virus will be fatal is well below one percent; however, 8 percent of affected patients in their 70s and 15 percent of those in their 80s have reportedly died. Most are believed to have preexisting conditions or other physical frailties that made it harder for their bodies to withstand the disease.
Protecting Against Coronavirus Outbreak Resembles Fighting the Flu
The American Health Care Association, which represents 13,500 senior facilities nation-wide, has issued new COVID-19 guidelines in response to the outbreak in Kirkland. These precautions seem very similar to those designed to prevent influenza, since the new virus, like the flu, is thought to spread primarily via droplets in the air. Common-sense guidelines recommend “frequent hand sanitation among staff and visitors, grouping people who become ill in the same room or wing, and asking family members who are sick to avoid in-person visits.” Some health care agencies are actively screening visitors and performing temperature checks for residents, staff and visitors.
Unfortunately, concerned residents and their families don’t appear to have many good options at the moment. Dr. David Gifford of the American Health Care Association says families should “think carefully” before taking drastic steps such as removing patients from nursing centers during an outbreak. “Evacuating a facility is not a benign event,” he told Kaiser Health News, adding that moving can be a traumatic experience for a frail senior. Meanwhile life goes on for the Kirkland residents even though visits are curtailed and residents are confined to their rooms. Washington Governor Jay Inslee told the Seattle Times that a team of 20 investigators from the CDC has been sent to help local health officials deal with the Life Care Center outbreak.
Ask Yourself Today, “How Do I Want to Live Tomorrow?”
It may be hard to see past the frightening headlines, but eventually this outbreak will run its course. Have you given thought to where and how you want to live as you age? Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions often says that most people have three key goals as they grow older: they want to protect their assets and not die broke; they want to avoid becoming a burden to those they love; and they don’t want to be forced against their will into a nursing home. Sadly, the vast majority of Americans will fail to achieve these objectives – but you don’t have to be one of them.
There’s a better way, an approach to retirement planning that Rajiv calls LifePlanning. He invites you to join him for a free introduction to this ground-breaking form of planning for your future in which issues such as housing, family and finances are blended together with legal and medical protection to create a seamless LifePlan exclusively designed for you. We offer these popular seminars all across the region, so for a current calendar visit our Live Events page and register for the seminar of your choice. Meanwhile, take care of your health – so you can “Age on.”
(originally reported at www.khn.org)