Nursing Homes Unprepared for Pandemic Flu Fallout

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TUESDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- If an influenza pandemic swept through the United States, nursing homes might not be prepared to deal with patient overflow from hospitals, say researchers who looked at more than 400 nursing homes in Michigan and Nebraska to come to this conclusion.

Of those nursing homes, only 23 percent had a specific pandemic influenza plan, 23 percent had a pandemic response incorporated into an overall disaster response plan, and 52 percent had no pandemic plan.

The researchers also found that less than half of the nursing homes had provided pandemic education to staff members, and just 6 percent had conducted pandemic influenza outbreak exercises. Half of the nursing homes had stockpiled commonly used items such as gloves and hand products.

Among the positive findings -- 77 percent of the nursing homes had a person or staff position designated as being responsible for pandemic preparedness, and access to laboratory facilities for the detection of influenza was available at 84 percent of nursing homes.

The findings were published in the July 23 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"If nursing homes are called upon to serve as alternative care centers for patients who can't be treated in overcrowded hospitals, the impact on the nursing homes could be vast. Nursing homes serve a vulnerable population prone to dire consequences from an emergency," study author Dr. Philip W. Smith, chief of the section of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said in a university news release. "While most facilities felt that nursing homes were being counted on to take hospital overflow patients in a pandemic, in reality, few homes would be able to do so."

"Nursing homes may not be equipped to handle an influx of influenza as well as non-influenza patients. They may also be unwilling to accept overflow patients, if it means displacing their current residents," added senior author Dr. Lona Mody, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System. "Nursing homes run a high occupancy rate, making it logistically difficult to accept a lot of patients if there is a time crunch."

Specific areas that need improvement "include communication with nearby health departments and hospitals at planning stage and exercising formulated plans. Planning for staff shortages is also critical," Mody said.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has more about pandemic flu.

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