The flu season is winding down for the year. If your facility has missed a flu outbreak – congratulations, and I will keep my fingers crossed for you. If you have been hit – I feel your pain.

I honestly can say the worst period in my life was when a respiratory flu hit our assisted living community. I was in my third year as the director and I had never experienced a flu outbreak. We had just held our annual Valentine Party which had become our resident appreciation party too. Residents and their families had been invited to a wonderful meal with entertainment. This major celebration lasting a whole two hours had become a favorite event by the residents, families and staff. Unfortunately, an uninvited guest arrived that year, a respiratory flu.

It was our policy to sequester a resident if they were feeling poorly and possibly contagious. The day of the party, Jean, a resident had a cold. She also had a terrible cough which we mistakenly attributed to her cigarette habit. Although mindful of our no smoking policy, she often would go downtown for a cup of coffee and a smoke or two. We determined she had a cold and going to the party might actually be uplifting for her – what were we thinking.

Jean was our first victim of the flu. The flu spread like wildfire throughout the building. If a resident was heard clearing their throat at 3:00 coffee, by the next day that client could not rise out of bed. In one week a third of our population was sick. Many residents were taken to the clinic and given new doctor orders. I called the paramedics for five of our residents; all were admitted to the hospital. Staff also became victims of this respiratory demon. Available staff was now working double shifts or worse – shorthanded. The sick were quarantined to their rooms and eventually also the healthy in attempt to minimize this outbreak. Families were called and advised to postpone any unneeded visits. By the end of the week I was physically and mentally exhausted, but believing the worse was over. Not a chance, the following week was a repeat of the first.

More clinic visits, more calls to the paramedics resulting in five more residents admitted to the hospital. This new enemy infected two thirds of the population and half of the staff. The good news, nobody died. I did have one casualty, so to speak; out of the hospital admits, one resident became better suited for skilled nursing. Prior the flu outbreak, staff and I had watched her condition weaken and the flu had taken its toll, taking her out of my care.

Many believe we cannot escape airborne flu viruses, maybe that is true; however, I do believe providers can take action to minimize any outbreak. I had just gone through the worse two weeks of my life and I vowed I was never going to relive that experience. My job is to provide care and a safe and secure environment for my residents. I believed I had failed. I looked to where I could make improvements and found keys to an outbreak-free flu season.

Obviously infection control procedures were reviewed. I believed we looked pretty good in this area; the building looked clean, staff appeared to be following proper guidelines, and both staff and clients appeared to be washing their hands frequently and correctly.

I was beginning to believe getting this outbreak was just bad luck, but after a closer review, I realized the client plays a role in the prevention. When I looked at this situation with respect to the client the following safeguards were put into effect. I strongly believe three actions are absolutely necessary in maintaining healthy clients and preventing future outbreaks.

Build client strength – We implemented a walking club or maybe better referred to as a “moving club”. This club was not reserved for walkers only; wheelchair bound clients also participated and benefited from this activity. This activity lasted 15 minutes a day. We also encouraged staff to join the walk too.

Avoid dehydration. We brought a pitcher of ice water to each resident room every morning – some facilities will deliver a second pitcher of water late afternoon. A glass of water was always present at meals and available at snacks. The building had drinking fountains and in addition a water cooler was placed in the activities room and used frequently by residents.

Serve nutritious meals and snacks. We decreased or eliminated serving foods with trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup, processed food and nitrates. We minimized the “junk food” such as cakes, cookies, chips etc. Instead of the availability of cookies every day, once a week we had a cookie day. Proper nutrition is essential for everyone let alone our clients with compromised conditions. We concentrated on providing foods that created a positive impact on our clients’ health vs. serving foods that brought a negative impact.

With great effort and with great success, thanks to staff; we continued to enjoy our annual Valentine parties, while not entertaining any “unwanted guests”.

Implement these three safeguards along with the Lifestyle Ledger and you will have a winning ticket!

Lastly, my thanks to your organization and staff for all they do in the business of caring!

Be Joyful,