Health and Family Services Cabinet
DPH, OIG Work to Prevent Illness Outbreak in Nursing Facilities
Efforts Targeted at Lowering Frequency of Gastrointestinal Illnesses in Institutional Settings
The Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) have developed guidelines to help nursing homes in Kentucky prevent and control the outbreak of gastrointestinal illnesses.
The guidelines contain specific protocols that address prevention of infection and control during an outbreak. While these guidelines are not outlined specifically in state regulations for nursing home facilities, the OIG strongly advises that facilities follow the recommendations, in the best interest of maintaining the most sound public health practices.
“Our job is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents of nursing home facilities across the commonwealth – including the assurance of a sanitary environment,” said Inspector General Robert J. Benvenuti III. “In order to prevent the outbreak of gastrointestinal illness in nursing homes, I strongly recommend that facilities follow these guidelines. Failure to establish and maintain an infection control program that assures a sanitary environment and prevents the development and transmission of disease and infection may jeopardize the health and safety of residents.”
The recommendations stem from a heightened awareness of gastrointestinal illness nationally due to recent outbreaks. These illnesses can cause extreme discomfort and produce such symptoms as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, headache, low-grade fever, muscle aches and/or a combination of these symptoms.
Norovirus is a common cause of gastrointestinal outbreaks in nursing facilities as well as other aggregate living situations such as dormitories, hotels or cruise ships. The virus is extremely contagious and may be easily spread among health care workers, food workers, and patients or residents of facilities by unclean or soiled workers, hands, coughs or sneezes and by touching unclean surfaces contaminated with the virus.
The new recommended guidelines have been distributed to all nursing homes around the state. They include general guidelines for operation of food service, cleaning and general disinfection as well as guidelines for food service and cleaning during an illness outbreak.
In addition, DPH and the OIG will continue to respond and offer assistance in the case of a viral outbreak in an institutional setting. In an effort to reduce the incidence of infection and negative outcome to residents, the OIG will also place heightened statewide scrutiny on certification and licensure laws related to infection control, sanitation and dietary services.
“Gastrointestinal illness can be extremely uncomfortable for those who experience it and can be potentially life threatening to those who are already vulnerable, as nursing home residents often are,” said William Hacker, M.D., commissioner of the Department for Public Health and acting undersecretary for health at CHFS. “It is particularly important that all facilities in Kentucky follow these guidelines and do everything they can to prevent an outbreak or minimize any outbreak that may occur.”
In addition, DPH continues to remind all facilities to report illness outbreaks of two or more residents with like symptoms to their local health department or to DPH at (502) 564-3418. Not only is action required by law, but it also will help DPH officials assist facilities and minimize the number of those affected.