Let’s Be Clear: A Guide To Transparent Communication During COVID-19

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, senior care facilities have had to adapt to changing situations in their facilities, communities, and states or provinces; with each change being communicated to staff, residents, family members, and regulators. The increased need for transparency and proactive outreach has placed an extra burden on already strained care teams.

To help support facilities through these changes, many local and federal health authorities have developed guidelines and checklists to help facilitate transparent communication practices. 

Creating and implementing a comprehensive, compliant, communications plan has never been more important; transparency is the key to compassionate care during these challenging times. 

Staying Compliant  

As of May 8th, 2020, CMS requires senior care facilities to report new positive cases, or, three or more residents or staff displaying respiratory symptoms within 72 hours of each other by 5 pm the next calendar day. While care homes are not expected to call each family member individually to inform them of a new positive case, they are expected to make reasonable efforts to make this information readily available. Methods include:

  • Utilizing group email lists
  • Posting updates to your website
  • Paper notifications (This template letter from AHCA and NCAL is a good resource)
  • Automated Voice Broadcasting Systems and TextMessage (SMS)

Failure to comply with this requirement can result in enforcement action by authorities. To ensure your facility can adequately meet requirements, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Preparedness Checklist for Nursing Homes and other Long-Term Care Settings is a key resource to help build a comprehensive COVID-19 communications response plan. For state-specific guidance, the Toolkit on State Actions to Mitigate COVID-19 Prevalence in Nursing Homes is also available. 

Survey Says

When regulators survey for compliance, interviews with residents and their families will determine where notifications were sent out in a timely manner. Questions include:

  • Is the facility providing cumulative updates to residents, their representatives, and families at least weekly or by 5 PM the next calendar day following the subsequent occurrence of either: each time a confirmed COVID-19 infection is identified, or whenever three or more residents or staff with new onset of respiratory symptoms occur within 72 hours of each other?
  • Did the information include mitigating actions taken by the facility to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission, including if normal operations in the nursing home will be altered (e.g., restrictions to visitation or group activities)? 
  • Did the information include personally identifiable information?

An Automated notification system ensures that each of these requirements is easily met while creating an auditable trail for compliance purposes. Furthermore, a facility administrator can reach all stakeholders in a timely manner, allowing care teams to focus on residents.

Best Practices

To remain compliant and to ensure surveys by regulators are easily passed, care facilities require a communications plan which is streamlined to allow for easy proactive outreach, creates an auditable trail, and standardizes messaging to ensure consistency. During times of crisis, however, maintaining frequent and consistent communication can overload staff. If you need help, a system like Cliniconex’s Automated Care Messaging can ease that burden.

The Power of Data

It is important in this environment to track information to see what measures are working in both senior care and the community at large. The data collected is important to assess whether quality care is still taking place in senior care facilities. The information provided to authorities will be used to inform residents, families, and communities of the status of COVID-19 infections in their area.

Solid, reliable information can also help minimize any disinformation that appears online or in the media. Sensationalized statistics can be refuted with data from reputable sources. This can help ease anxiety for resident families who may hear shocking numbers from a facility their loved one is in and allows administrators to respond quickly and accurately.

Openly sharing information can improve relationships between all stakeholders, maintain accountability, and ensure the continued delivery of quality care. 

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