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Davis Brown Health Law Blog  

COVID-19: 5 Things Hospitals & Nursing Homes Should Do Now - March 6, 2020

1. Know when and how to contact your Public Health Department

In this week’s webinars, the Iowa Department of Public Health detailed when providers should contact them. For example, the IDPH asked to be alerted when two or more patients or staff report fever and respiratory illnesses. Make sure your staff is aware of what to look for, what they need to report and how.

2. Update your disaster preparedness plan

Hospitals and nursing homes should review and update their disaster preparedness plans and implement the new CMS hospital or nursing home guidance from March 4.

3. Ensure all facility entrances effectively communicate entrance restrictions

At a minimum, your visitor restrictions should align with the recommendations in the CMS guidance. These recommendations will change as the virus spreads, so continue to monitor and implement changes. 

We suggest you proactively contact patient family members to notify them of the visitation restrictions. This would also be a good time to make sure you have updated next-of-kin contact information and share your communications plan with patient family members should COVID-19 become an issue at your facility (see point 5 below).

4. Train and communicate with your staff

Your staff should know about and be trained on your COVID-19 response plan, infection control procedures, and use of personal protective equipment (“PPE”). You need to be prepared to provide care and treatment to COVID-19 patients, no matter how small your hospital or facility. 

Given how contagious the virus is, it will be extremely important that your staff implements the recommended infection control procedures and knows how to utilize PPE so that the virus is not spread to others. 

In a recent National Nurses United survey only 44% of nurses reported their employer has provided them with information about COVID-19, including how to recognize and respond to possible cases. Make sure you are implementing the recommended infection control protocols from the CDC cited in the CMS guidance (hospital guidance and nursing facility guidance). In addition, make sure you and your staff continue to monitor and alert your local public health department about PPE shortages.

5. Have a communication plan in place if COVID-19 is suspected or found in your facility

Recent news reports from Washington show widespread frustration among residents’ family members regarding the lack of communication from nursing facility staff and public health officials.

You should be prepared for an influx of phone calls which may make it difficult for key people- such as family members, vendors, and regulators- to reach you. 

Determine now who you will want to maintain ongoing communication with (critical vendors, family members, regulators, staff, treating physicians, etc.) and what alternative communication measures you will implement. 

Consider: how will family members be able to receive frequent updates on their loved one’s condition? Will you proactively contact patient family members, or will you give them a phone number to call? What challenges do these options present? Do you have updated contact information for patient family members? Who will maintain contact with your critical vendors? Who will respond to media inquiries?

The Big Picture: Be Prepared

If COVID-19 impacts your facility, you will not be able to carry on business as usual. New cases are being reported each day, it’s only a matter of time before an Iowa facility is affected. You need to be prepared on all fronts: plans and procedures in place, staff updated and trained, and plans for communicating with residents, patients, vendors, and family members.

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