Infection Control Series: How to implement isolation measures in care homes and protect against loneliness

When a care home resident tests positive, or shows symptoms, for a virus such as COVID-19, it’s essential that isolation measures are immediately catered for to prevent further spread of the virus. 

Similarly, if a care home worker tests positive, they must shield themselves from further contact for 14 days. 

But while effective in helping to contain the spread, one of the biggest issues with isolation is loneliness. 

What steps should you take when isolating the resident, and how can you help make sure they don’t feel so isolated in isolation? 

As soon as they test positive

  • Immediately take the individual to their room where they must self-isolate for a 14-day period. If they do not have access to an en suite bathroom, identify a bathroom that only isolating patients should use, ensuring unaffected patients do not mix.
  • Residents should be isolated within their rooms as much as is practically possible and kept at a one-metre plus distance from other residents in communal areas. 
  • If possible, meals should be served in residents’ rooms and communal sitting areas avoided. It may be practical to stagger meal times to allow staff to manage this and to allow adequate time for cleaning. If communal areas do have to be used, the government guidelines stipulate following the one-metre plus guideline rules where possible.
  • If symptoms or signs consistent with COVID-19 occur in the 14 days after exposure then relevant diagnostic tests, including for SARS-CoV-2, should be performed. These patients should be isolated or cohorted with other suspected cases whilst results are pending.

Once the resident has been identified and isolated, the area the resident was present in should be cleaned and disinfected as a priority. You can find more out about that here.  

As soon as they show symptoms: 

In line with Government guidance, if you have a resident that you think has developed symptoms of COVID-19 such as a new, continuous cough or fever, seek clinical advice using the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or call NHS 111. Do this as soon as the resident gets symptoms.

In an emergency, call 999 if they’re seriously ill. Do this as soon as they get symptoms. Do not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre, or a hospital.

Prepare a single hospital bag. This will help the NHS provide the best care possible if a resident/patient has contracted COVID-19. A hospital bag should include:

  • An emergency contact
  • A list of the medications to take (including dose and frequency)
  • Information on the resident’s planned care appointments
  • Items generally required for an overnight stay (for example, medication, pyjamas, toothbrush, and snacks)
  • An advanced care plan (if applicable)

According to the British Geriatrics Society (BGS), 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-19 positive and to isolate them when they return, as part of efforts to ensure capacity for new COVID-19 cases in acute hospitals. 

They should follow the advice from Public Health England when accepting residents without COVID-19 back when there are confirmed COVID-19 cases within a home.

How can you combat loneliness? 

One of the biggest mental health issues affecting the older generation has been loneliness for a long time. When people are already apart from their family due to being in a care home, the added fact of being isolated from other peers who need to be socially distanced from them can make things worse. 

We’re only just at a stage where family members can now see loved ones in care homes, again at a restricted distance. 

Technology has become more advanced in recent years, and care homes should take advantage of this. 

Video conferencing software on smartphones, tablets, and portable computers should be available as much as possible to maintain human contact for residents. 

They, and healthcare professionals supporting them, must recognise and respond to the strain that social isolation puts on residents and their families.

Through the use of popular apps, such as Skype and Facebook, your residents will be able to keep in touch with loved ones.

Loneliness and isolation can have a significant impact on our wellbeing. If you want to help support isolation in the elderly generation, consider getting involved in Age UK. 

Social distancing will not go on forever, and this time will pass. We will eventually be able to hug, hold hands, and be close again, but for now, take advantage of the digital capabilities our generation has, which no other has had before it. 

Read more from our Infection Control series

Part 1: Using the correct cleaning chemicals

Part 2: Understanding the national colour-code scheme

Part 4: The complete guide to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Part 5: How to handle waste management and laundry segregation

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