3 Concerns Healthcare Professionals Should Be Aware of This Winter

As we near the end of 2020, it’s clear that there’s no end in sight for the global pandemic. As scientists around the world work day and night to develop treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus, it seems like we’re closing in on some promising measures, but the roll-out process remains tentative.

All we can do right now is continue to figure out how to live and operate under COVID-19. Many skilled nursing facilities are doing just this, which is no easy feat, of course. The United States is still surpassing its record for reported cases in a single day. But by now, healthcare executives are well into the ‘management’ phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve adapted their facilities to stabilize their operations, done what they can to rein in their expenses, and enforced strict protocols that support safe environments for both residents and staff.

Yet, the winter season poses a few hurdles that could disrupt the initiatives that have armed skilled nursing facilities against COVID-19 thus far. Below are three of the most prominent concerns healthcare professionals should be aware of this winter.

After declining in February and March, SNF occupancy rates are beginning to trend upwards and stabilize on their own once again. That’s great news, considering that skilled nursing facilities that function at a low capacity for a prolonged period of time risk closing their doors. Yet, as hospitals prepare for a second wave of the coronavirus, they also look to SNFs for relief.

Repeating concerns that occurred at the beginning of the year, hospitals are doing everything they can to ensure they have enough beds for all their patients come winter. As such, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are allowing hospitals to discharge their less severely ill patients to skilled nursing facilities to free up room.

Of course, the more residents that transfer into a facility, the more at-risk its other patients will be of illness. It’s important that SNF executives and staff become even more aggressive about their infection control measures, social distancing protocols, and preventative care to ensure a higher number of residents doesn’t result in a higher number of potential COVID-19 cases too.

Coupled with the ongoing pandemic, this year’s flu season could put even more stress on hospitals and skilled nursing facilities as more patients will require beds, ventilators, and lab tests.

Because SNFs harbor more at-risk populations, they’ve always done everything in their power to stave off flu cases, but this becomes even more critical in the middle of a global outbreak. Some facilities are using innovative technologies in their fight against the flu and COVID-19, like all-natural platforms for surface disinfection and better air purification systems. But experts also say that because skilled nursing facilities are doubling down on their infection control measures due to COVID-19, it will help to lessen the impact of the seasonal flu as well.

Since September, skilled nursing and assisted living facilities have been able to apply for funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Provider Relief Fund. Providers that were eligible for the funding were granted 2 percent of their gross 2019 revenue allocation.

This financial support has been a bright spot in the pandemic for SNFs across the nation, but facilities are saying that the relief doesn’t come close to offsetting the financial hit they’ve taken since the start of the pandemic, from having to pay for testing, additional staff, and more safety equipment.

There have been efforts to secure additional relief while also granting SNFs priority to vaccinations and testing for both residents and workers, but this all hinges on what may be included in the next stimulus bill.

For healthcare executives and healthcare workers, protecting residents and employees will be an ongoing battle. But for those aware of the hurdles that lie ahead, there is significant opportunity to prepare and overcome them.

Originally published to aviphilipson.com December 1st, 2020.

Avi Philipson serves as the Head of Operations at Axis Health, a leading consulting company trusted by skilled nursing facilities in Maryland and New Hampshire.