A Discussion with Real Time’s Clinical Account Specialist and Infection Control Expert, Cheryl Scalzo, RN
The latest pandemic news indicates that the delta surge appears to be leveling off with a likely decline in COVID-related cases and deaths expected in the coming months. However, immunity may be waning, and we’ll all need another jab to bolster vaccine protection. As such, the CDC officially endorsed COVID-19 booster shots for the country’s long-term care residents and workers in late September.
As long-term and post-acute facilities gear up to administer boosters and with an unpredictable flu season right around the corner, we asked Registered Nurse and certified Infection Preventionist, Cheryl Scalzo what skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) need to do to prepare.
Real Time: As the Covid resurgence peaks and vaccine boosters are prioritized for nursing home patients, what do SNFs need to do to prepare?
Cheryl Scalzo: First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that the pandemic never went away. It has not stopped. Not for patients, nor facilities, and especially not for the dedicated nursing staff who care for our aging population.
One of the most important steps SNFs can take is to carefully review and update their policies and procedures related to the pandemic, including infection prevention and control (IPC), personal protective equipment, and patient and staff safety. The facilities must have appropriate protocols in place so all staff, regardless of role or tenure, know what to do in a timely and efficient manner.
Second, facilities should have documented, well-coordinated action plans in place for the administration and documentation of the initial COVID vaccination and subsequent booster as well as flu shots. These plans must include protocols for monitoring adverse effects as well.
Putting all that documentation into action is the next step. Detailed, competency-based training is critical to ensuring resident and staff safety and must be provided often. This is one of those crucial tasks where all staff – from housekeeping to frontline clinicians – need to be on board.
Lastly, SNFs need to provide straightforward, timely, effective communication. By sharing facts and information, not speculation, facilities can address patient, family, and staffing concerns early and give them peace of mind about COVID and flu preparedness.
Real Time: What ‘lessons learned’ from the pandemic are most important for SNFs?
Cheryl: The most significant lesson we’ve all learned over the past 18 months is that infection prevention and control must be at the forefront of the entire facility. Many facilities have never dealt with infectious disease breakouts and therefore, may not have a strong IPC program. If nothing else, the pandemic has proven that surveillance and early detection are key to preventing communicable disease outbreaks.
Facilities must have a comprehensive plan for infection prevention and control and the right staff, training, and tools to implement and manage it. It’s not enough to gather symptom and vaccination information; rather, IPC staff must be able to understand surveillance data and take action, based on what that data reveals.
Real Time: What is Real Time doing to assist its customers with their IPC planning and execution?
Cheryl: We know that SNFs all over the country are struggling. They’re dealing with staffing limitations, regulatory mandates, occupancy fluctuations, and other pandemic-related concerns that change daily. While we cannot solve for every issue, we do offer effective resources and tools to help our customers develop and deploy their IPC plans.
Each Real Time customer has a dedicated account manager with extensive clinical experience in long term care. We understand the specific issues SNFs face every day. As such, we listen to our customers’ concerns and work collaboratively to resolves issues, providing guidance, easily accessible IPC tools and reports, and analytical support.
In addition, we provide free live trainings weekly as well as monthly clinical leadership meetings, giving customers the opportunity to share best practices and ask questions. Real Time also offers brief on-demand trainings via our customer portal, which is a real time-saver, particularly for new hire and agency staff onboarding.
The most important support we can offer our customers is our interventional analytics platform itself. Our suite of infection control and antibiotic stewardship surveillance tools helps customers identify emerging symptoms well in advance of a potential outbreak, reduce overall antibiotic-resistance cases, and proactively monitor for COVID-19 and flu. These resources also help facilities avoid penalties associated with antibiotic prescribing, tracking, and reporting.
We also help SNFs track resident vaccination and booster shot status and side effects. With specific alerts around the vaccine response, customers can easily detect change in condition, no matter how subtle. Our tool also includes an infection risk category which monitors vitals for specific clinical indications around respiration, temperature, and pulse oxygen saturations. Finally, we automate the process and provide interactive dashboards so staff can simplify reporting, proactively identify emerging symptoms, and most importantly, take immediate action to reduce risk of infection.
I recently spoke with an Infection Preventionist who said that instead of being mired in data entry she used to input manually, our automated tools and dashboards really helped her track and assess what was happening in the facility in real-time. And that’s our goal – our interventional analytics solution provides SNFs actionable insights in real-time, enabling clinicians to provide more proactive, effective care in the moment.
As our customers prepare themselves for emerging COVID variants, booster shots, and flu season, Real Time offers meaningful help, equipping SNFs with live patient data and IPC tracking and monitoring tools that can truly make a difference for facilities, their hard-working staff, and the patients in their care.