Nursing homes will be 'hit very hard' by COVID-19, health official warns

Gabrielle Masson - Print  | 

At least 73 nursing homes and care facilities in 22 states have reported COVID-19 cases, with 55 related deaths confirmed among nursing home residents as of March 20, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents represented more than 25 percent of U.S. deaths as of March 20, though less than 1 percent of Americans reside in such facilities.

"The grim reality is that, for the elderly, COVID-19 is an almost perfect killing machine," Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association, told CNN.

At least 129 COVID-19 cases and 35 deaths were reported in a late February outbreak at Kirkland, Wash.-based Life Care Center. A nursing home near Chicago has 46 residents with COVID-19, and another in New Orleans reported 23 cases, along with five deaths, according to The Washington Post.

Some nursing homes don't require staff to use personal protective equipment because of looming shortages, inconvenience and cost, The Washington Post found. At several facilities with COVID-19 cases, only those with symptoms are tested, even though some patients can be asymptomatic.

Though CMS has banned visitors unless a resident is near death and shut down communal activities and dining, many officials don't think it is enough to stop the virus from spreading. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. nursing homes had at least one infection control deficiency in 2017, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found.

"The unfortunate truth is that long-term care facilities do not have the same infection control resources on a daily basis that acute care hospitals have," Jeffrey Duchin, MD, public health officer in King County, Wash., told The Washington Post. "They're not required to have the same amount of infection control, oversight of their work or training. And they don't have funding to bring on people to do that routinely."

"I think you'll see around the country that these facilities are going to be hit very hard by COVID-19," Dr. Duchin said.

More articles on post-acute care:
Many 5-star nursing homes have infection control issues 
30% of nursing homes don't have N95 masks, survey finds
One-third of Medicare ICU patients skip at-home rehab after discharge, study finds

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