Special unit to treat nursing home patients with COVID-19 to serve Jefferson County

The special unit for COVID-19-positive nursing home residents will help slow disease spread and provide care to this vulnerable population.

Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to uab.edu/uabunited for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

Female doctor visiting her patient at his home - appointment with digital tabletThe special unit for COVID-19-positive nursing home residents will help slow disease spread and provide care to this vulnerable population.The University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Jefferson County Commission, in conjunction with NHS Management, will establish a special 25-bed unit to treat patients from nursing home facilities who have COVID-19.  The unit will be housed in a wing of the Aspire Physical Recovery Center at Hoover, operated by NHS Management. The establishment of the unit is the first step in a larger plan to assist the community in managing and mitigating the pandemic. 

The unit is designed to isolate nursing home residents who test positive and are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, while providing the appropriate level of skilled nursing care that those patients require. 

“The unit will continue our mission to provide evidence-based care for these vulnerable patients across the care continuum,” said Kellie Flood, M.D., associate professor in the UAB Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care. “Our goal is to provide them with the same care elements they receive regularly in their skilled nursing environments, such as rehabilitation, during these unprecedented times. We are also partnering with our infectious disease, infection prevention and PPE experts to provide this unit’s team with best practices for COVID-19 management and processes to keep team members safe.”   

The Aspire facility has a separate wing that will be used for the unit, with a separate entrance and ventilation system. Nursing staff for the unit will be coordinated and trained by UAB.

“Nursing home residents have special needs, and for those with mild illness from the virus, an acute care hospital is not necessarily the right environment,” said Tony Petelos, Jefferson County manager. “This program will blend the hospital and skilled nursing environments to make sure all their needs are met.” 

The unit will also ease pressure on hospitals that are facing a surge in COVID-19 patients by freeing up beds for acutely sick patients. It will also help reduce the potential spread of infection within a skilled nursing facility by providing a transition of care for patients who cannot be isolated in their home facility.  

Head shot of Dr. Kellie Flood, MD (Associate Professor, Gerontology/Geriatrics/Palliative Care) in white medical coat, 2018.Kellie Flood, M.D., UAB Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative MedicineThe unit will begin accepting patients in early July. On June 25, the Jefferson County Commission voted to allocate up to $1.9 million of its Coronavirus Relief Fund allocation — money received through the CARES Act — in support of this initiative.

“Our team at NHS Management is excited about this cooperative venture with one of the nation’s flagship health care institutions,” said Nick Beckham, regional director of NHS. “This effort will bring new resources to the fight our dedicated staff members have been waging against this virus and will provide additional options for the residents in our care. With the virus so prevalent in our community, this program allows us to be proactive instead of reactive in our fight. NHS believes this collaborative venture can become a best-practices model for the nation.” 

“This unit is the first step of a broader collaboration between the UAB Health System, the Alabama and Jefferson County health departments, local area hospitals, and our affiliated nursing homes, to create a care continuum structure to develop a prevention and mitigation plan to respond to potential nursing home outbreaks of COVID-19 in Jefferson County,” said Brian Spraberry, chief administrative officer for the UAB Health System.

That plan will establish a line of communication with representatives from acute care, post-acute care, public health, the Alabama Nursing Home Association and Alabama

Hospital Association with the following goals:  

  • Coordinate consistent infection-control practices and provide practical guidelines for PPE utilization and conservation for both the COVID unit and community collaborative.
  • Create a centralized process to track and test nursing home residents and employees to help inform and implement surveillance protocols for persons under investigation (PUI) by using a reporting structure through the county EMA or other such monitoring protocols as available.
  • Create a four-stage response plan to mitigate any resurgence occurring in the Jefferson County region to include exposure notification, PPE utilization, infection control, testing protocols and staffing. 

UAB proposes to create an assessment team to provide consulting services to any facility needing expertise in the development of infection-control policies and procedures, staff education, and the development of other strategies related to prevention and mitigation of COVID cases.