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CALTCM President’s Letter: March 2021

I wanted to start this year with a grateful word of thanks to all of our CALTCM members. Our CALTCM friends and family are leaders in medicine, nursing, administration, pharmacy, social services, ombudsman, and more who believe in quality and safety in post-acute and long-term care.  Your efforts help CALTCM serve as the medical voice of long-term care in California.  Your work through the pandemic has been heroic and the sacrifices have been many.  

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Building Vaccine Confidence

When COVID-19 exploded last March, my community went to work attempting to keep COVID out of our facilities.  We developed county-wide virtual learning collaboratives for Assisted Living (AL) communities and for SNFs, which met on a weekly basis.  By the end of June, we had done well with no outbreaks and only 4 deaths in the county.  Unfortunately, last summer’s surge in COVID prevalence shattered the myth that we had done enough to contain it.  Like the rest of our state, we pivoted to follow guidance focused more on infection control and early recognition of outbreaks.  By the end of October, we seemed to be back in the driver’s seat with much better facility COVID metrics.  However, with the winter surge, we are stretched thin on staff, resources, and again wondering when the bad news will end.  In my county, we have now have had 196 deaths, and 70% of them have occurred in senior congregate living facilities.  

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COVID-19 Vaccines are Arriving!

Since the SARS CoV-2 virus arrived in the USA last winter, our lives have been disrupted in many ways.  We are currently in a Winter Surge that has locked down most of the state.  The latest statistics on COVID activity show a doubling or tripling of cases in most of California in the month of December, which greatly increases the risk of outbreaks in our post-acute and long-term care settings.  As of 12/10, the USA had 15.6 million confirmed cases and 294,000 deaths.  Though only 6% of the cases have been in post-acute and long-term care (PALTC), including skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) and assisted living communities (AL), our residents have had a hugely disproportionate 34% of the deaths.  As of Friday, December 11, over 100,000 persons with COVID in the USA were hospitalized and 21,000 were in ICU beds. In California, we had 33.500 new cases reported over the preceding day.  

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Local Interventions to Address Workforce Shortage

Prior to the pandemic, most of the SNFs in Sonoma County had applied for waivers, because they weren’t able to staff CNAs at the required 2.4 FTE state standard.  I heard one administrator comment that the website “” had become a main source for attracting CNAs from other SNFs.  In our area, we do have a training program for CNAs through partnerships of facilities with the Red Cross and the local community college, but the number of CNAs attracted to this track has been small.  Since the COVID pandemic, our CNA shortage has been aggravated by concern for personal safety, complicated sick leave policies, inconsistent work hours, and the realization that those working in multiple facilities had a much higher risk of transmitting COVID.  

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Important CDPH AFL of Sept 12 that Updates COVID Testing/Response Guidelines

The 9 page (AFL-20-53 ) update should be studied by management in the SNF and hospital setting since it sets expectations for testing during care transitions, dialysis care, and outbreaks.  In addition, it creates a new expectation that all HCP will be tested weekly, even when in surveillance mode.  The guidance allows for routine use of Antigen testing rather than exclusive use of RT-PCR testing.  This should allow facilities to have immediate test results.  The tracking and reporting requirements for testing results in symptomatic and asymptomatic persons are also addressed.  

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Have You Experienced the Benefits of a Robust Telemedicine Program?

The Covid-19 pandemic has radically changed how providers deliver health care.  Realizing that in-office and in-facility clinical care risks transmission of SARS-CoV2, CMS has removed all restrictions on the adoption of Telemedicine.  Multiple organizations including CALTCM, AMDA, and AGS (American Geriatric Society) have provided helpful webinars and resources that have helped providers implement Telemedicine in their work flow.  Understandably, seniors have had difficulty embracing this technology.  Medical offices have enhanced their MA’s (Medical Assistant’s) training so they can contact patients prior to the telemedicine visit, to help them with technical issues and to gather pertinent information for that appointment.  

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Nasal Swabs Are Approved for COVID-19 Testing

The NEJM Online June 3 edition reported a study from the University of Washington and United Health Group comparing the efficacy of COVID-19 testing in 530 subjects by nasopharyngeal swab vs. patient-collected anterior nasal swab, or mid-turbinate swab, or tongue swab.  This well-done study found similar sensitivity and specificity to that of our gold standard for RT-PCR testing, the  uncomfortable and universally detested nasopharyngeal swab.  An audio interview with Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Eric Rubin, and Deputy Editor, Dr. Lindsey Baden, endorsed these alternative collection sites.  Since that study, the public health departments of San Diego and Contra Costa Counties have approved the anterior nasal site as a collection option for SNF patients and staff.  PPE isn’t required for patient-collected swabs, and adherence to our mandated and recommended testing protocols will likely be better.  

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Are/Were You Ready for Your First COVID-19 Case(s)?

SNFs are now required to report patients under investigation for COVID-19 (PUIs) and actual COVID 19 cases among their residents and HCWs (Health Care Workers).  The report is updated every working day ( ) and indicates that over 20% of our SNFs have one or more cases associated with their facility.  

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A Summary: CALTCM White Paper April 2020

The World Health Organization has recognized what experts in geriatrics and long term care medicine have known for over two months.  Unfettered COVID-19 infections are devastating to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.  Reports are finally coming out that more than half of the reported deaths have occurred in senior congregate living settings.  It is quite likely that the number of deaths is still far underreported.  Only when the epidemiologists review all of the deaths across the U.S. and the world during this pandemic will we have the true answer.  The sad truth is that the experts in our field already know the answer.  We’re just waiting for corroboration.

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Should Your Facility Develop a COVID Unit?

The Wall Street Journal reported on April 11 that over 2100 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in 37 states had been infected with SARS-COV2 with over 2,000 deaths occurring. In Sonoma County, we have developed 2 workgroups for coordinating, disseminating, and implementing best possible practice ideas.  One workgroup consists of Leadership from Public Health (PHD), skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), Hospitals, and Foundations. The other has leaders from the assisted living (AL), residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFE), and Senior Living Communities.  In the latter group, we were relieved to learn that our county just developed a contract with Sonoma State University to house up to 580 seniors with stable COVID disease so they can be quarantined outside their home facility, reducing the risk of COVID transmission within this high risk population. 

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Critical Priorities and Information That Reduce Risk of SNF COVID-19 Failure

On February 29th, the first case of COVID-19 was announced, occurring in Washington state in the Kirkland nursing home.  Geriatricians around the country immediately knew what this meant. CALTCM went into action and had our first webinar on March 9.  It’s six weeks later and we’d like to give everyone direction. For anyone who has not watched our webinars, we will redirect you to the most important, in the order that they should be watched.  Keep in mind, if you’re already far along the curve, some of this might seem remedial. We can assure you, it’s not.   

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QAA and QAPI: Are They Protected?

Note: This article was prepared by Mr. Horowitz and Dr. Ferrini with special thanks to Dr. Robert Gibson PhD JD, Psychologist, for his input. 

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How Ready is Your Skilled Nursing Home to Address COVID-19 Surge?

Our country now has the distinction of having the most COVID cases in the world.  Our response as a nation is a stress test that has exposed our lack of a coordinated system of health care in this country.  In my community, there remains a shortage of naso-pharyngeal swabs, a public expectation of easy access to testing (County Public Health Department can do 100-120 tests per day), and many facilities still don’t have real-time access to adequate PPE.  Because of the lack of PPE and nasopharyngeal swabs, testing in some facilities for influenza/RSV/Other viruses is not being done. There appears to be an over-reliance on quarantine of residents with respiratory illness as well as shelter-in-place strategy to keep their facilities COVID-naïve.

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Opinion: Full-Time Infection Preventionist a Must

Nursing homes are always “putting out fires.”  That excuse is often used to avoid addressing critical issues.  There’s a reason that the federal Requirements of Participation recognize the need to have a person in a nursing home tasked with infection control. That person is designated as the Infection Preventionist, or IP.  Who normally does that job?  It might be an RN or an LVN.  It is often the Director of Staff Development, or DSD.  Infection control is usually one task among many for the person typically designated to be the IP.  How does that work? Is it enough?

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Update COVID-19 Management in PALTC

At CALTCM, we are very concerned for the welfare of our very vulnerable post-acute and long-term care (PALTC) residents, families, and staff.  Because the world in our lifetime has not experienced such a rapidly moving and serious pandemic, CALTCM presented a Webinar on the COVID-19 coronavirus last Monday which was well attended (over 900 registrants) and is currently available to the public at no charge (for a limited time only) with additional resources on the CALTCM COVID-19 webpage.  Since that time, more important tools and information have become available.  The CDC now has posters and handouts on COVID-19 available on their web page in multiple languages that could be used for staff and visitor education.

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Advice from an Emeritus Medical Director

As some of you know, 2019 ended with the closing of my Post-acute & Long-term Care practice.  In the process, I turned over the care of my patients to 3 other physicians and my 2 facility Medical Directorships to 2 of my colleagues.  Having been the Medical Director for over 33 years at my CCRC, I have had some time to reflect on this role, beyond the CMS expectations and AMDA guidelines ((  

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Flu Season: A Brief Update on this Year's Influenza Activity

As a service to CALTCM members, and to encourage our clinicians to actively recommend influenza vaccination to their LTC and community dwelling patients, we are sharing recent information on resurgence of Flu activity in California.
From the California Department of Public Health:
  • Deaths: 54 since Sept. 29, 2019
  • Outbreaks: 16 since Sept. 29, 2019
  • Laboratory: 27.7% positive
  • Outpatient Influenza-Like Illnesses*: Above expected levels
  • Hospitalizations: Above expected levels

For more information from the CDC on this years Flu activity, go to:

Rules Governing Use of Antipsychotics Loosened; What Should We Do About It?

As we approach the November 28, 2019 deadline to fully implement the Phase 3 changes in the “Mega Rule,” it is important to note that some of the “changes” that were implemented in Phase 2 are expected to change in Phase 3. Specifically, under Phase 2 rules, antipsychotics could not be prescribed PRN for more than 14 days unless a resident was examined by a prescriber (every 14 days). This was ostensibly to avoid the issue of off-label overprescribing of antipsychotics in our population, especially those suffering dementia-related psychosis (DRP) or other behavioral issues that could not be attributed to an Axis 1 diagnosis of a mental condition (i.e. bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, etc.). The rule as written mentioned a tendency to “place the convenience of the caregivers above the residents’ interests.”

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Medical Apps – General Principles and Some Recommendations

Do you wonder if you are most effectively using the technology you carry in your pocket? Is your phone cluttered with medical apps that you downloaded and now you can’t even remember what they are supposed to do? Here is a guide to walk you through my approach. Caveats – this is based primarily on my own experience, and I use an iPhone not Android, so my Android info is limited. Medical apps seem to disappear from the app store with remarkable frequency, so please check availability.

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A Taste of AMDA is Evolving

In the second issue of the WAVE for June this year, I wrote about how to access “AMDA on the Go” podcasts, which are offered free to post-acute and long-term care professionals.  Over the summer, AMDA has added a number of new features including expert discussion from the Colorado Geriatric Journal Club, and now, practical clinical applications from the August issue of JAMDA.  In this podcast, Dr. Philip Sloane, the new co-Editor-in-Chief, summarized take-home lessons from: Increasing the Value of ER visits, Reducing Avoidable Transfers, Quantifying the Impact of Incomplete nursing home transfer documentation, and Measuring the Value of High-Intensity Telemedicine in Senior Living communities.  I found this podcast to whet my appetite for the details of these articles, which I can now more effectively share with my facilities and home health agency.

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