2020 Risk All Star: Albert Munanga

Thanks to Dr. Albert Munanga’s Quick Action, Many Senior Care Residents Were Spared from the COVID Menace

Dr. Albert Munanga, regional director of health and wellness, Era Living

Senior living and long-term care facilities were hit hard by COVID-19, due both to a high prevalence of comorbid conditions and a communal living style.

To mitigate the spread of the virus in these facilities, two steps are critical. First, confine residents to their rooms and limit their interaction with staff. Second, test both residents and staff frequently to support early identification and quarantining of new cases. These measures are, of course, in addition to recommended protocols such as wearing PPE, washing hands frequently and cleaning rooms and materials thoroughly.

Especially at the beginning of the pandemic in the U.S., however, none of these steps was simple to implement. Quick and reliable tests were not widely available. Supplies of PPE were dwindling fast. And cutting off residents’ social interactions meant damaging their quality of life.

Dr. Albert Munanga, regional director of health and wellness for Seattle-based retirement community Era Living, was unfazed by the enormity of these challenges.

Between the first weeks of March through April, his facility confirmed four positive resident cases and three positive staff cases. Thanks to Dr. Munanga’s quick and decisive action, the spread was contained quickly. Though one resident sadly did not survive, all remaining cases recovered.

After their first positive case, Dr. Munanga immediately restricted residents to their apartments and contacted the CDC and University of Washington Medical Center to obtain enough testing capability to assess every resident and staff member who consented.

Care for COVID-positive patients was delivered via a “cluster schedule,” meaning that treatments were administered for the whole group at the same time (though in separate rooms) to minimize the frequency and number of staff visits to infected rooms. This method also negated the need for nurses and physicians to constantly switch out PPE, saving crucial supplies.

An inventory system tracking real-time quantities of available PPE was also implemented. Thanks to these measures, no staff member was forced to re-use PPE.

“Albert lead his team in a proactive manner that resulted in reducing the transmission rate of COVID-19 throughout their facilities. He worked tirelessly to identify resources to improve access to wide-spread testing and timely notification of test results to help prevent spread of the illness,” said Michelle O’Neill, risk control consulting director at CNA Insurance, who worked closely with Munanga during the crisis.

Perhaps the most important ingredient in Era Living’s success, however, was transparent communication. Every employee, family member and resident was informed of each new case — without violating HIPAA — cultivating a culture of openness and trust. This not only helped to alleviate stress, but also aided in early identification and contract tracing efforts.

“Clear communication foster trust and promotes harmony, lessens confusion and makes things happen. In terms of ensuring staff knew procedures, we had to do more than just talk but walk the walk with them and perform return demonstrations to ensure they could perform critical tasks safely and correctly,” Munanga said. &

Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2020 Risk All Stars.

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