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Cameron Archer
June 16, 2020

How to Keep Senior Living Centers Safe During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Millions of Americans trust their loved ones to senior care facilities across the country. As of 2017, nearly 19,000 senior living units were providing safe spaces for older people to receive both physical and emotional assistance from professional staff and volunteers.



However, the recent coronavirus pandemic has created tremendous challenges for nursing homes, independent living facilities, and assisted living facilities, as their residents are at a much higher risk overall. Facility administrators are struggling to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect their residents, who tend to have weaker immune systems and pre-existing conditions.



Additionally, implementing social distancing is difficult in senior living communities. Staff members often have to provide direct physical assistance to residents. And carrying out certain precautions, such as operating dining spaces at 25% capacity, isn’t always possible. Many facilities simply don’t have the time or space to accommodate the latest guidelines. 



In the past few months, we have heard numerous stories about outbreaks in senior living facilities that highlight how quickly COVID can devastate a community. San Antonio Express News reported outbreaks at five different nursing homes in May. Zooming out, 13% of all Texas nursing homes have reported at least one case of the coronavirus. More than 40,000 nursing home residents and staff have died so far from the pandemic in the U.S, which many believe is an underestimate of the true figure.



Senior living facility executives are under tremendous pressure on multiple fronts. They have a responsibility to do whatever it takes to slow the spread of the virus and protect residents. At the same time, they have to maintain financial solvency, which means convincing potential residents that they can provide a safe environment. This, at a time when many senior care organizations are already experiencing significant financial challenges.



Nursing home occupancy is plummeting around the country. Operating and capital budgets are getting slashed, all while the CDC is issuing new guidance that often requires spending more money. With coronavirus cases increasing in many parts of the country, it’s clear that the battle is still far from over. 



How are senior living facilities to manage?


Senior Living Facility Administrators Facing Uphill Battle

The CDC’s current guidelines recommend a three-pronged approach to slowing independent living facility COVID-19 spread. 



First, facilities should share critical information with residents, staff, volunteers, and visitors about the coronavirus. Administrators must ensure their team members can educate patients and families why certain precautions are necessary.



Second, facilities must encourage protective measures, such as limiting the number of interactions with outside visitors, canceling non-essential group activities, and implementing “buddy” systems to help residents stay connected. Many are finding it hard to meet the emotional needs of residents while also ensuring they are protected from the virus.



Third, senior living facilities must disinfect high-touch surfaces and common spaces regularly. Door handles, faucets, exercise equipment, and light switches are just a few examples of surfaces that should be treated with disinfectants often. Complying with this recommendation is expensive from both a labor and materials standpoint. 


Searching for Disinfectant Solutions

Consequently, administrators are exploring ways to disinfect their spaces in a cost-efficient manner. Robust nursing home disinfected services often involve significant labor or even heavy equipment.



The most common solution is simply to hire additional cleaning staff to perform the daily disinfecting routines in all common areas and patient living areas. This might seem like the only viable solution, but the reality is that daily disinfecting hasn’t managed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes to this point, and it may prove to have continued limited effectiveness, considering the transmission that can take place in the 24 hours between disinfecting.



Nursing home facilities managers need a way to proactively disinfect facilities on a 24/7 basis. Surface cleaning does not provide this. There are some solutions, however, that can provide air purification services. 



For example, UV light appears to be effective at killing the COVID-19 virus, but the method can only be implemented in rooms without occupancy due to human exposure risks. 



Another option is to upgrade central HVAC systems to higher-efficiency filters that remove airborne particles. ASHRAE recommends building managers upgrade to MERV 13-14 filters. However, most commercial HVAC systems were designed for MERV 6-8 filters that can’t handle the pressure drops that occur across MERV 13-14 filters. 



Upgrading HVAC systems entirely would require replacing air handlers, compressors, condensers, and ductwork. In many cases, facilities managers might also have to upgrade their BMS or BAS to accommodate these changes (though IoT Facilities Management solutions could provide an alternative).



Given the drop in resident occupancies, facilities just don’t have this kind of budget right now. Even if they did, replacing filters still introduces significant health risks to those who replace them, as the filters themselves would likely become saturated with the viruses they remove from the air.



One alternative to consider on this front is portable air filtration cabinets that remove and destroy airborne microbials through a variety of filtration media. These can usually be obtained at a lower cost than HVAC upgrades or UV filtration systems, even with occasional filter replacements.



In addition to the logistical and financial challenges of disinfection, there are also optics challenges. Senior care facility administrators must demonstrate their coronavirus mitigation efforts in real time to their occupants. Air purification remote monitoring solutions can aid in this effort. By deploying smart air quality monitors along with microbial filtration units, facilities managers can provide real-time views of the systems actively removing airborne pathogens, and demonstrate those results to staff, residents, and families.



The imperative is on senior care facility administrators to prove their proactiveness in providing senior living clean air solutions. Doing so may allow them to regain public confidence and restore facility revenues with normal occupancy rates.


Introducing WellAware’s Clean Air Services

At WellAware, we are excited to announce that we have partnered with Purafil, a world leader in commercial filtration, to offer Clear Air Services. With this solution, senior care facility administrators can cost-effectively protect their residents while proving the effectiveness of their efforts with real-time data. 



Through our Clean Air Services, we provide all filtration equipment for your specific spaces, as well as ongoing maintenance and filtration replacements. We connect filters directly to your facility’s computers, tablets, and phones so that staff can track filtration uptime and performance. We also provide workers, residents, and families with access to a mobile app that shows air filtration productivity in real time. 



Together with Purafil, we guarantee 99% filtration uptime for a flat-rate monthly price. To learn more, visit our Clear Air Services page.

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