Special unit to treat nursing home patients with COVID-19 opens in Alabama

Special unit to treat nursing home patients with COVID-19 opens in Alabama
The unit will provide the appropriate level of skilled nursing care for nursing home residents who test positive for COVID-19 and are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. (UAB)

The University of Alabama at Birmingham and Rehab Select at Talladega is opening a special 16-bed unit to treat nursing home patients who have COVID-19. The unit will be in a separate building on the campus of Rehab Select, with financial support from Alabama’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. The establishment of the unit is part of UAB’s efforts to assist the community in managing and mitigating the pandemic.

The unit will isolate nursing home residents who test positive and are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, while providing the appropriate level of skilled nursing care those patients require. The unit can accept COVID-19-positive patients from hospitals across the state for ongoing short-term rehabilitation.

Dr. Kellie Flood (UAB)

“The unit will continue our mission to provide evidence-based care for these vulnerable patients across the care continuum,” said Dr. Kellie Flood, associate professor in the UAB Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care. “Our goal is to provide them with the same care elements they receive regularly in their skilled nursing environments, such as rehabilitation, during these unprecedented times. We are also partnering with our infectious disease, infection prevention and PPE (personal protective equipment) experts to provide this unit’s team with best practices for COVID-19 management and processes to keep team members safe.”

The facility has a separate entrance and ventilation system. The nursing staff will be coordinated and trained by UAB.

“Nursing home residents have special needs, and for those with mild illness from the virus, an acute care hospital is not necessarily the right environment,” said Christopher Schmidt, president/CEO of Rehab Select at Talladega. “This program will blend the hospital and skilled nursing environments to make sure all their needs are met.”

The unit will ease pressure on hospitals by freeing beds for acutely sick patients with COVID-19 or non-COVID illness. It will help reduce the spread of infection within a skilled nursing facility by providing a safe transition-of-care option for patients who cannot be isolated in their home facility.

The Talladega unit is accepting patients beginning Oct. 5. UAB partnered with Aspire Physical Recovery Center in Hoover to open a similar unit in July.

“These units are part of a broader collaboration between the UAB Health System, state and county governments, local area hospitals and our affiliated nursing homes to create a care continuum structure to develop a prevention and mitigation plan to respond to potential nursing home outbreaks of COVID-19 in Alabama,” said Brian Spraberry, chief administrative officer for the UAB Health System.

That plan will establish a line of communication with representatives from acute care, post-acute care, public health, the Alabama Nursing Home Association and Alabama Hospital Association with the following goals:

  • Coordinate consistent infection-control practices and provide practical guidelines for PPE utilization and conservation for the COVID-19 unit and community collaborative.
  • Create a centralized process to track and test nursing home residents and employees to help inform and implement surveillance protocols for people under investigation by using a reporting structure through the county EMA or other such monitoring protocols as available.
  • Create a four-stage response plan to mitigate any resurgence occurring in the Jefferson County region, to include exposure notification, PPE utilization, infection control, testing protocols and staffing.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’’s UAB News website.

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