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Safety is paramount to the long-term care industry, yet it remains a challenge to the majority of facilities. The safety programs put in place need to be robust, well managed, monitored, and reassessed on a regular basis. Technology can help, but it’s underutilized. Today we are interviewing one of the leaders of safety software in the long term care industry to learn how skilled nursing facilities can build and improve their safety programs.

Long-Term Care Industry’s Ever-Increasing Safety Challenges

Financial pressure and regulatory compliance have always put heavy constraints on long-term care facilities. Long-term care safety has been a hot topic in 2020, but of course, it’s not as simple as handwashing and mask-wearing. Effective safety programs are imperative in healthcare, especially so with vulnerable populations often found in long-term care and COVID-19 has shown just how devastating a lack of preparedness can be. When it comes to safety, there are a lot of underlying concerns that have come to the surface as of late and they aren’t going to fade from the spotlight until they are addressed.

COVID-19 Highlights Existing Gaps in Healthcare Safety for Residents and Staff

According to a New York Times database, more than 100,000 seniors have lost their lives in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to COVID-19, and more than 700,000 residents have been infected. The numbers illustrate how issues in the safety of care can become a nationwide health crisis.assistant

A Harvard study even named long-term care professionals’ jobs as the most dangerous in America right now. 

In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data on injury rates of employees’ safety spotlighted how long-term care employees are two times more likely to be injured than a coal miner or even a construction worker. 

This fact should have been purposefully addressed by the industry right away. Instead, it wasn’t until the arrival of COVID-19 that we had no other option but to look at the industry and ask ourselves, “How did this happen and how do we fix it?”

LTC Safety Isn’t Working. Where Do We Start To Fix It?

There are many issues around our approach to safety that we, as an industry, need to expand upon and acknowledge. Care settings and their leaders must be more strategic and thoughtful about care safety by ensuring infection prevention and control programs are purposefully created and followed and that they have the required tools and equipment to be effective.

The Consequences of Ignorance

About 55 filed lawsuitshave been issued against care facilities. These are primarily COVID-19-related criminal negligence charges and hundreds more are in the works. Some of them go directly against individuals like the director of nursing, the executive director, or the administrator, but most of the charges are against the organizations themselves. The consequences of inadequate safety protocols keep wreaking havoc in the industry, damaging reputations and profitability. 

The legal losses are merely a manifestation. It’s the end result that happens when you don’t go back to the beginning. And the beginning is we’ve got to have a much deeper strategic discussion and conversation around safety.

Safety Issues Don’t Start With Infection Control Programs

The massive safety problem COVID-19 has spotlighted doesn’t only relate to infection control programs, but broader terms of safety, entailing residents, employees, and med pass.

All these issues have been managed from a tactical level, but this is a strategic issue that needs to be at the top of the executive leadership’s agenda. When COVID-19 hit, long-term care leaders were purposefully taking a stand on the issue, but there wasn’t a game plan, a strategic approach to face it.

A significant part of the problem comes from the manual and paper-based nature of these organizations’ programs. Audits are run on paper, and this paper is often stored in storage sheds. By the time you get through the whole assessing and auditing process, facilities are weeks or months behind in the most time-sensitive crisis the industry has ever faced. Efficiency is out the window and the ability for real-time action is essentially lost.

Care Facilities Must Be Strategic, Not Just Responsive

Being on the frontlines fighting a deadly pandemic, it’s like being on the frontlines in the military. You need a well-planned and well-rehearsed strategy before the battle begins or you’ll end up losing morale, trust, and sadly, people. 

While long-term care leaders are busy fighting the current battle, they need to be getting ready for future ones as well.

A strategic approach is imperative for long-term care facilities to be prepared to act quickly when unexpected challenges arise. The action plan can’t be as reactionary as it was when COVID-19 caught the industry off guard in the first months.

We should be imaginative. And it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to know that something like this could have happened, right? We had Ebola, we’ve had high flu seasons, other things in the past. So a lack of imagination is another issue.

Organizations need to have forethought about possible scenarios before they become reality. By continually reviewing their assessments, they have the chance to upgrade their guidance as new risk factors and safety issues surface. This practice should be taken from a multidisciplinary perspective so that it’s not only handled from a QA and director of nursing point of view, but also from a frontline caregiver’s perspective.

Financial Constraints to Adequate Safety

To a great extent, long-term care facilities’ financial challenges hinder their ability to invest in preventative safety programs, or in some cases to implement much-needed safety protocols at the time of need at a truly effective level. The industry’s spending on technology, in particular, is lagging far behind that of other industries or even other healthcare settings like hospitals. Budgets just haven’t been there. But there are areas, like safety, that simply cannot be adequately addressed without financial resources. One of the biggest hurdles is the price tag to get systems in place and the technology that enables facilities to deploy and maintain appropriate safety protocols.

Can We Manage Safety Without Technology?

These days it’s hard to imagine the long-term care industry working correctly without essential technology assets like an EHR. Most organizations adopt these digital systems to ensure efficient resident data management, financial interoperability, and clinical functionality. If safety is a strategic issue of the same order of magnitude, it’s easy to see why having electronic management systems in place is so important.

An Industry Behind The Times

SafetyStill, the real issue is not the technologies themselves. It’s a matter of how we adopt these technologies. Organizations must use these digital tools to adopt industry best practices to elevate safety conversations and standards.

Other industries have done this for decades. For example, the airline and manufacturing industries have upgraded their safety programs based on technology assets.

Overall, the long-term care industry has a reactive path instead of the strategic one and that’s always going to exacerbate issues in times of crisis.

What Do We Owe Our Healthcare Workers?

If we are to ask caregivers to be the heroes, to fight the battles on the frontline, we need to do everything we can to protect them and enable them to do their best work without the need for unnecessary sacrifices and hardships that could have been avoided. They are the ones who need to focus on the immediate tasks at hand. It is the leadership’s responsibility to actively put time and money into ensuring that staff and residents are able to work together effectively and in as safe an environment as possible no matter what challenges arise.

Long-Term Care’s Investment in Digital Safety Solutions

The long-term care industry must invest in digital tools and a consistent set of processes that enable an infection control leader or a director of nursing to always be a step ahead in safety, compliance, and risk management.

Not having a good safety program in place impacts your census, your brand, your community outreach, and your staff morale. All outcomes are connected. You can’t run an organization effectively without preventing, identifying, and correcting issues. Facilities have been struggling to figure out a solution, so CareSafely has designed an answer to that safety issue.

What Can Long-Term Care Facilities Do to Improve Their Safety Programs?

Fortunately, there is a proven holistic approach to infection prevention and control based on the “Four A’s of Safety,” a process other “safety-first” industries rely on.

  1. Assess:  There are over 70 infection control risk areas that LTC facilities should be assessing. Right now most SNFs are actively managing less than 30 of these. The best approach to assessing safety includes using templates and regular implementation of CDC, CMS, and other government guidelines and requirements.
  2. Action plan: Build strategic action plans to monitor and control all risk areas. Ensure your action plans rely on root cause analysis, corrective actions, completion date, budget, and assigned lead. 
  3. Audits: Stay compliant with paperless audits to streamline your IPC protocols. Conduct digital audits of PPE inventory, hand hygiene, wearing PPE, and COVID-19 symptoms checks. 
  4. Analyze: Identify risks and track progress to monitor assessment scores, action plans, and audit results. Long-term care organizations with multiple locations should track and benchmark across their network and focus on high-risk areas.

What to Look For in an Infection Prevention and Control Platform

Check ListAn effective solution will allow facilities to manage a digitalized, sustainable, and robust safety and compliance program and simultaneously save caregivers and administrators time and energy. Make sure your platform provides the assessments and audits you need and automatically ensures all risk factors are considered so you can actively manage safety throughout your facility or multi-facility organization. Your system should help infection preventionists solve safety concerns before they become problems.

What Makes CareSafely Different?

Long-term care facilities have access to numerous safety systems. But CareSafely fills a spot that the infection control market hasn’t covered yet. The platform’s technology is designed under usability principles providing an incredibly simple to use web-based system that doesn’t require dedicated training and provides you with real-time safety assets for your action plans.

Paper-based audits and checklists can’t capture more than 10% of the data into spreadsheets for real-time actionability and analysis, the rest gets lost in storage boxes. By digitizing all data at the source with CareSafely, you can begin capturing 100% of the infection control, safety, compliance, and QA data and implementing the IPC program your long-term care facility needs.

For more on recent trends in long term care, read our blog and subscribe to the LTC Heroes podcast.