Screening procedures fall short

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

As guidelines rapidly change, healthcare facilities in Los Angeles County may be struggling to keep up.

By Rumi Shah, Copy Editor

Many students and staff at Valley College have loved ones living in Los Angeles County nursing homes. In an effort to protect these vulnerable residents of nursing homes, the LA County Department of Public Health issued guidance limiting visitors and requiring screening of healthcare personnel (HCP).

According to this guidance, updated March 20, “Healthcare Facilities (HCF) should screen all HCP prior to the start of working their shifts. HCF should develop and implement screening systems that cause the least amount of delays and disruption as possible (i.e., HCP self report, single use disposable thermometers or thermal scanners, etc.).”

A local healthcare worker, who asked that her identity be protected, shared her concerns about screening procedures at some of the facilities that she and her friends worked at. For the purposes of this story, we will call her Jamie.

“At one facility, the screening process seemed inconsistent. I got there one cold morning, and they took my temperature as soon as I walked in the door. The lady cheerfully waved me in, saying I didn’t have a fever and all was good. She had overlooked the fact that a mild fever could have been masked by weather induced hypothermia.”

A nursing home is known by another, more official sounding name — skilled nursing facility or SNF for short. According to the California Association of Health Facilities website, LA County is home to about 274 SNFs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends aggressive visitor restrictions for all healthcare facilities, including SNFs. They also require screening procedures for healthcare workers, even before COVID-19 is identified in a community or facility.

SNFs are home to individuals that tend to be elderly, with pre-existing conditions, and hence, more likely to be immuno-compromised. SNF residents are thus at a much higher risk for being infected and possibly dying from the novel coronavirus.

“At another facility, my friend told me they used thermometers that were supposed to change color if you had a fever,” Jamie shared. “With the social distancing rules, the lady stood several feet away from arriving staff. My friend wondered if the lady could even see the color changes from so far away. With so many staff members to check, she seemed to be rushing through, so … who knows if someone with a fever slipped through the cracks.”

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