The CDC’s current guidelines recommend a three-pronged approach to slowing independent living facility COVID-19 spread.
First, facilities should share critical information with residents, staff, volunteers, and visitors about the coronavirus. Administrators must ensure their team members can educate patients and families why certain precautions are necessary.
Second, facilities must encourage protective measures, such as limiting the number of interactions with outside visitors, canceling non-essential group activities, and implementing “buddy” systems to help residents stay connected. Many are finding it hard to meet the emotional needs of residents while also ensuring they are protected from the virus.
Third, senior living facilities must disinfect high-touch surfaces and common spaces regularly. Door handles, faucets, exercise equipment, and light switches are just a few examples of surfaces that should be treated with disinfectants often. Complying with this recommendation is expensive from both a labor and materials standpoint.
Consequently, administrators are exploring ways to disinfect their spaces in a cost-efficient manner. Robust nursing home disinfected services often involve significant labor or even heavy equipment.
The most common solution is simply to hire additional cleaning staff to perform the daily disinfecting routines in all common areas and patient living areas. This might seem like the only viable solution, but the reality is that daily disinfecting hasn’t managed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes to this point, and it may prove to have continued limited effectiveness, considering the transmission that can take place in the 24 hours between disinfecting.
Nursing home facilities managers need a way to proactively disinfect facilities on a 24/7 basis. Surface cleaning does not provide this. There are some solutions, however, that can provide air purification services.
For example, UV light appears to be effective at killing the COVID-19 virus, but the method can only be implemented in rooms without occupancy due to human exposure risks.
Another option is to upgrade central HVAC systems to higher-efficiency filters that remove airborne particles. ASHRAE recommends building managers upgrade to MERV 13-14 filters. However, most commercial HVAC systems were designed for MERV 6-8 filters that can’t handle the pressure drops that occur across MERV 13-14 filters.
Upgrading HVAC systems entirely would require replacing air handlers, compressors, condensers, and ductwork. In many cases, facilities managers might also have to upgrade their BMS or BAS to accommodate these changes (though IoT Facilities Management solutions could provide an alternative).
Given the drop in resident occupancies, facilities just don’t have this kind of budget right now. Even if they did, replacing filters still introduces significant health risks to those who replace them, as the filters themselves would likely become saturated with the viruses they remove from the air.
One alternative to consider on this front is portable air filtration cabinets that remove and destroy airborne microbials through a variety of filtration media. These can usually be obtained at a lower cost than HVAC upgrades or UV filtration systems, even with occasional filter replacements.
In addition to the logistical and financial challenges of disinfection, there are also optics challenges. Senior care facility administrators must demonstrate their coronavirus mitigation efforts in real time to their occupants. Air purification remote monitoring solutions can aid in this effort. By deploying smart air quality monitors along with microbial filtration units, facilities managers can provide real-time views of the systems actively removing airborne pathogens, and demonstrate those results to staff, residents, and families.
The imperative is on senior care facility administrators to prove their proactiveness in providing senior living clean air solutions. Doing so may allow them to regain public confidence and restore facility revenues with normal occupancy rates.