Long-Term Care Residents and Emergency Rooms: A Dangerous Combination?

Infectious disease experts in Ontario and Quebec have teamed up to learn whether or not elderly residents in nursing homes who visit emergency rooms are at an increased risk of picking up infections.

The two-year study, which began this past summer, includes 405 elderly residents who require an emergency room visit in Toronto and Montreal. They will be compared with 810 elderly residents who did not visit an emergency room. These 1,215 residents will come from 15 to 20 LTC facilities.

Such a study has not been conducted before on the elderly, although it has been done on children, said Caroline Quach-Thanh, MD, MSc, an infectious disease expert and medical microbiologist at McGill University Health Centre, Montreal.

"With children we found no difference because they likely got their colds from daycare, and not from visiting emergency rooms," Dr. Quach-Thanh told Concerned Friends of Ontario Citizens in Care Facilities . However, the elderly are more vulnerable to hospital visits because they are less exposed to potential infections than children.

If the researchers find that indeed the risk of infection is significantly high following emergency room visits, then the next step will be to look at improving measures taken in emergency rooms to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses.

Other researchers involved in this study are: Edith Lévesque, an infection control nurse at Riviere-du-Loup;  Dr. Alison McGeer at Mount Sinai Hospital; Dr. Andrew Seymour at Sunnybrook & Women's College Health Sciences Centre; and Margaret McArthur, a nurse practitioner at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Concerned Friends will follow up next fall to learn the results of this important study which is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.