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The Corona Crisis In Retirement Homes: A Threat for Seniors and Caregivers Alike

  • March 26, 2020

Fear on Both Sides

“Everyone is also, of course, being urged to pay closer attention to hygiene measures,” a Hamburg health official says. “But we still need to make sure that people are receiving proper care. In geriatric care, a certain proximity can’t be avoided – when washing, for example.” At the moment, this can be frightening for both sides: the elderly, who risk getting infected, but of course also the caregivers, who also fear for their own health.

Just a few kilometers away from Haus Alstertal is another home for seniors surrounded by high trees, the Cura Seniorencentrum Haus Lerchenberg in Hamburg’s Volksdorf neighborhood. There’s a sign posted at the door here, too: “Our facility is closed to visitors until further notice!” Anyone wanting to enter has to ring the bell.

“Both the residents and relatives have considerable understanding. They want their parents and grandparents to be safe,” says Sabine Becker, who has spent the last 10 years operating the home. Nine out of 10 of the inhabitants here are over 80 years of age. Many have weak immune systems and are already ill. “So far, thank God, we haven’t even had a suspected case,” says Becker. Cura Seniorencentrum operates a chain of nursing homes with more than 5,600 employees. The company has only reported a single infected employee so far. “The mood and camaraderie are still good,” she says.

Becker is also hoping that the more robust among the residents will also take seriously the warnings to keep their distance from others. There’s an outdoor market in Volksdorf on Wednesdays and Saturdays just a few hundred meters away from the home, making it easy enough for many of the elderly here to reach. The short shopping trip is quite popular among the seniors and some from the home even went there last Wednesday. “I couldn’t forbid them from doing it,” says Becker. “There’s no mandatory curfew.”

She says nurses and caregivers at the facility won’t have to worry about having enough protective clothing and disinfectant if they do get a suspected case or actual infection. “Nothing was stolen from us, and we have stocks that will last for weeks. Otherwise, I’d be nervous right now,” she says. But stocks of clothing and supplies is far from a given at all nursing homes in Germany right now. This is a source of a lot of uncertainty for some nursing home operators and their employees. 

Insufficient Capacity for Isolating Patients

The German Patient Health Foundation has also identified another problem. The foundation’s director, Eugen Brysch, says that most nursing homes or assisted-living facilities aren’t able to adequately isolate corona patients. He argues they don’t have enough nurses, doctors or space to make that happen.

Brysch is calling for the government to develop emergency contingency plans for nursing homes and outpatient services of the kind already in place for hospitals. To relieve the burden on hospitals that have been focusing on expanding their intensive care bed capacities, additional bed and treatment capacities are to be set up at other hospitals and also possibly at provisional locations such as hotels or convention halls.

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