Forty percent of COVID-19 deaths in U.S. linked to nursing homes, new Senate report finds
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A new U.S. Senate report this week shows an average of eleven Americans died per hour from coronavirus (COVID-19) in cases linked to nursing homes between July and August.
The startling report reinforces what industry leaders have been saying for months, and they are once again calling on Congress and the Trump administration to provide more personal protective equipment (PPE) and funding to save lives.
The report, written Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), analyzes data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevnetion (CDC). They focus primarily on the impact the virus has made on long-term care facilities.
“There are experts around this country who know exactly what to do to get this number (of deaths) down,” said Casey, the top Democrat on the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “But, you have to make the investment.”
Since the pandemic began, more than 78,000 nursing home residents and workers have died from COVID-19, the report found. That’s nearly 40 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the United States since the pandemic reached the nation earlier this year. This week, the U.S. hit a grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths, according to analysis from Johns Hopkins University.
“It may be through community spread, it has just seeped into nursing facility patients,” said Cynthia Morton, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association for the Support of Long-Term Care. “And, they are very vulnerable already to different diseases, to different viruses.”
Morton, along with the report, said an inadequate numbers of tests and P.P.E. are the main reasons for the high-mortality rate. Clifton Porter II, the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for the American Health Care Association, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending 1 million tests per week to skilled nursing facilities; assisted living facilities are receiving another 500,000 tests.
Another solution, according to the report: to separate COVID-positive patients within the facility, a practice known as cohorting.
“There is kind of a special emphasis on the PPE and the infection control practices that have got to be followed for that area of the nursing facility,” Morton said.
But that can be an expensive process, Porter notes. Casey and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are requesting $20 billion for this and other nursing home-related safety measures. The feasibility of such a project under a condensed timeframe, Porter notes, poses its own challenges.
“When you look at America’s nursing homes, the average age is roughly 35 to 40 years old,” he said. “That’s average. We’ve got 65 to 70-year-old buildings in most markets.”
Senators and advocates both argue this report is another reason to pass a second coronavirus relief package, with a particular emphasis on nursing homes.
“Whether or not we’ll see another wave,” Porter said, “I think the most important thing we can do is to prepare for one.”