With the coronavirus pandemic hitting nursing homes and assisted living facilities especially hard, families are wondering whether they should bring their parents or other loved ones home. It is a tough decision with no easy answers.
The number of coronavirus cases in nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the country continues to grow. A Washington state nursing home was one of the first clusters of coronavirus reported in the United States, with at least 37 deaths associated with the facility. As of April 2, the Associated Press estimated that “at least 450 deaths and nearly 2,300 infections have been linked to coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide.” In New York, nursing homes account for one in four deaths, according to one report. In Massachusetts, nearly half of the state's coronavirus deaths have been in long-term care facilities. As of April 9, more than 700 cases had been reported in assisted living facilities in at least 29 states.
To contain the virus’s spread, most long-term care facilities are limiting or excluding outside visitors, making it hard to check on loved ones. Social activities within the facility may also be cancelled, leading to social isolation for residents. In addition, long-term care facilities face staffing shortages even in the best of times. With the virus affecting staff as well as residents, facilities are having trouble providing needed care. Assisted living facilities, which are not heavily regulated, may have greater trouble containing the virus than nursing homes because their staff is not necessarily medically trained.
With this in mind, many families are considering bringing their loved ones home. A Harvard epidemiologist is warning that nursing homes are not the best place to house the vulnerable elderly at this time. And a local judge in Dallas has recommended that families remove their loved ones from infected facilities. Before taking this extreme step, however, you need to consider the following questions:
- Is your family able to provide the care that your loved one needs? Some patients require help with eating, dressing, medication, and going to the bathroom. You need to consider whether you can adequately provide that care at home. In addition to your loved one’s practical needs, you need to think about your physical and emotional stamina. Also, is your house set up to safely accommodate your family member? Are there a lot of stairs? Does the bathroom have rails? If your loved one has dementia, there may be other considerations to take into account.
- How well can you prevent infection? Will you be better able to prevent infection than a nursing home? If your entire household is homebound, you may be in a good position to prevent bringing home the virus. However, if one or more member of your household is working outside of the home, you will have to take extra precautions to make sure you don’t bring the virus to your loved one. Are you taking the necessary precautions to keep your house and yourself disinfected?
- Will the resident be allowed to return to the facility when the threat of the virus has abated? If you take your family member out of the nursing home or assisted living facility, the facility may not let your family member back in right away. You should check with the facility to determine if your loved one will be able to return.