As wildfires continue to plague the western U.S. and Canada, the repercussions of the resulting smoke infiltrating long-term care facilities have become a significant concern for nursing home residents across many parts of the country.
Luke Montrose, an environmental toxicologist at Colorado State University, conducted a study in 2020, which found that one facility allowed in 50% of outdoor particulate matter, while another permitted 100%, demonstrating that being indoors was sometimes no better than being outside during smoke events.
In response to the concerning findings, Montrose expanded his study to long-term care facilities in Idaho, Montana, and is set to include Colorado this summer.
“An astonishing amount of smoke gets inside these facilities,” Montrose told KFF Health News.
His goal is to understand and address how wildfire smoke affects indoor air quality, particularly concerning the approximately 1.4 million seniors living in over 15,500 Medicare-and Medicaid-certified nursing homes across the nation.
“It may be a game-changer for quality of care,” Robert Vande Merwe, executive director of the Idaho Health Care Association, who helped persuade facilities to join Montrose’s study, told KFF Health News.
KFF reported that Montrose is actively working to install more air quality monitors in facilities, aiming to provide real-time data that can guide operators in taking protective measures.
Facilities in Idaho have already made changes based on the research, implementing pre-fire season checklists and sharing the area’s Air Quality Index during daily safety meetings.
Mark Troen, the regional maintenance director overseeing 10 Edgewood Healthcare facilities in the Boise area, told KFF that a few steps he’s taken to improve air quality include, upgrading air filters to a higher efficiency level that captures more particulates, notifying staff to keep doors and windows closed, and shutting off outdoor air intake.
“To actually see in real time what your indoor air quality is is huge,” he said. “It helps us mitigate some of those problems, rather than waiting until it’s bad.”