As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make headlines worldwide, the total number of cases and related deaths continues to rise in the United States. According to the New York Times, 43% of all coronavirus deaths in the U.S. are linked to nursing homes.
As of June 30, 2020, more than 128,000 people in the United States have died as a result of COVID-19 infections. Of those deaths, more than 54,000 have been nursing home residents and workers. In total, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 282,000 people at some 12,000 care facilities across the country.
With the infection rates so high in nursing homes, residents and their families want answers. Let’s take a look at why the virus is spreading through facilities so quickly and what can be done to mitigate the spread and protect residents and workers who have yet to fall ill.
Nursing Homes and COVID-19 Infection Risks
Nursing home populations are at high risk of being infected from COVID-19. The disease spreads easily in facilities where many people live in confined environments and employees move from room to room. The virus is particularly lethal to those over the age of 60 who have underlying health conditions.
Prior to the pandemic, the majority of long-term care facilities around the country were unprepared for such a situation. Once COVID-19 struck a facility, especially in early 2020, a lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, and isolation methods contributed to how quickly the virus spread.
While PPE, testing, and mitigation tactics have improved in many facilities, it does not change the fact that thousands of residents have already succumbed to COVID-19 infections.
Cases and Deaths in Long-Term Care Facilities
According to the most recent statistics, 11 percent of the U.S. COVID-19 cases have occurred in long-term care facilities. In at least 24 states, a majority of deaths are linked to nursing homes. Currently, the following states have individually seen over 20,000 nursing home COVID-19 cases and recorded thousands of deaths:
- Pennsylvania. 678 facilities, 20,689 cases, 4,518 deaths
- Massachusetts. 565 facilities, 23,321 cases, 5,115 deaths
- Illinois. 593 facilities, 21,390 cases, 3,649 deaths
- California. 923 facilities, 23,646 cases, 2,832 deaths
- New Jersey. 562 facilities, 36,316 cases, 6,617 deaths
The median case fatality rate in nursing homes is higher than the general population’s. Nationwide, there is a five percent case fatality rate, while in nursing home facilities with reliable data the percentage sits at 17.
Some states have released data regarding COVID-19 in their nursing home facilities, including cases and deaths. The top three facilities that have reported the highest death counts include the following:
- Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care & Rehabilitation, Queens, N.Y. 82 cases, 82 deaths
- Paramus Veterans Memorial Home, Paramus, N.J. 292 cases, 82 deaths
- Conestoga View Nursing and Rehabilitation, Lancaster, P.A. 153 cases, 74 deaths
It’s important to note that some states and the federal government have not released comprehensive nursing home COVID-19 data, so the numbers above have been assembled by the New York Times through its own database. The facilities tracked include nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, memory care facilities, retirement and senior communities, and rehabilitation facilities.
Reducing COVID-19 Spread in Nursing Homes
In order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in nursing homes presently and have proper procedures in place in the event of future pandemics or illnesses, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security recommends the following:
- Restrict visitors. In the event of a highly contagious illness, it’s important for facilities to restrict visitors to the facility, except for those who are medically necessary. This will aid in the prevention of disease introduction. Facilities should work to provide an alternative means of communication to residents and their families.
- Reduce internal activities. Group activities and communal dining should be canceled. Depending on the circumstances, smaller group activities that do not involve close contact may be possible.
- Implement proper cleaning and disinfection protocols. Facilities should be cleaned and disinfected according to CDC guidance using hospital-grade disinfectants. Proper supplies and training should be available to staff.
- Provide personal protective equipment. Staff must be provided with PPE to keep themselves and residents safe. This includes gloves, gowns, facemasks, eye protection, and, if available, respirators. Residents should also have access to standard, contact, and droplet precautions.
- Encourage families to take residents home, if possible. Family or friends who can temporarily care for their loved ones should consider doing so. This should only be done if they are confident they can safely provide adequate care for an extended period of time. This will likely not be an option for residents who require frequent medical intervention.
Learn About the Complaint Filed Against the PA Department of Health
If you have a loved one in a nursing home facility in Pennsylvania and they contracted COVID-19, it’s possible their facility’s response to pandemic was inadequate. If you believe that’s the case, a nursing home abuse lawyer from Shrager & Sachs, LLC can explain your legal rights and options.
Our law firm, in cooperation with three others in PA, has filed a joint complaint against the Pennsylvania Department of Health regarding skilled nursing facilities’ response to COVID-19. Contact us today to learn more.
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