How COVID-19 has impacted American nursing homes
Many of the most poignant and searing images of the coronavirus pandemic are those of family and friends visiting isolated nursing home residents, who peer back through windows or plexiglass dividers. Some wear brave smiles. Others look forlorn and bewildered.
The virus has taken hard aim at the nation’s 2.1 million residents who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and the 3 million workers who care for them. Stacker compiled a list of 25 ways that COVID-19 has had an impact on the nation’s nursing homes, by consulting news reports, trade and industry guidelines, scientific studies, and orders issued by state and federal governments.
Elderly and frail long-term care residents are disproportionately falling sick and dying. Many have pre-existing conditions—including as many as two-thirds of people age 70 or older—that make them particularly vulnerable. But too many have fallen needlessly sick, victims of neglect and greed by nursing home operators who have fallen far short in their care and compassion. And too many have died as the result of poor state and federal policy that could have protected them.
At a soldiers’ home in Massachusetts, veterans who survived Omaha Beach on D-Day and fought in Vietnam died by the dozens in the virus’ unrelenting spread. Decisions made by the home’s administration were later described in a government investigation as “utterly baffling,” and two former administrators face a host of criminal charges.
A public health official in Los Angeles County told families their loved ones might be better off at home than in local nursing homes, where more than 120 had infectious outbreaks. A nurse tried to tell the world about the failures and lack of care at the home where she worked, and she ended up dying of the virus herself.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees nursing homes, has come under heavy fire for doing too little, too late to protect the residents and staff at the more than 15,600 nursing homes across the country.
More than a quarter of the nation’s COVID-19-related deaths have occurred among residents and staff at long-term care facilities, and in several states, deaths in long-term facilities account for more than half the state’s total fatalities.
Keep reading to discover how COVID-19 has impacted American nursing homes.
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Outbreak in Kirkland, Washington
Feb. 26 - The first concentrated outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States involved the deaths of two residents of Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington. On Feb. 28, tests confirmed they had the disease.
Nursing home visits banned nationwide
March 14 - The federal government banned all non-essential visits to nursing homes. It also ordered the total suspension of all group activities in nursing homes.
Federal oversight agency focuses on infection control
March 20 - The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees nursing homes, announced a halt to all state surveys of facilities, to be replaced by targeted infection control surveys. Meanwhile, the federal government waived the requirement that nurse’s aides have 75 hours of training and instead allowed people with eight hours of online study to become caregivers. The industry had long sought a waiver, saying the standards were difficult for recruitment.
Veterans die of COVID-19 at Massachusetts home
March 23 - Massachusetts officials announced the first case of COVID-19 at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where eventually some 76 veterans died of the virus. By the end of March, facility superintendent Bennett Walsh was placed on paid leave. On April 8, the Massachusetts state attorney general’s office opened an investigation into the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and its deadly COVID-19 outbreak.
New York orders nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients
March 25 - New York state required nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients who have been discharged from hospitals. The policy was said to advocate for patients needing care, but nursing homes were soon hit by outbreaks and higher death tolls. On March 31, New York Gov. Andrews Cuomo added a provision to the state’s budget negotiations to shield nursing homes and hospitals from lawsuits that claim they failed to protect patients from COVID-19. The provision is retroactive to March 7.
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Los Angeles County suggests taking loved ones home
April 7 - The public health director of Los Angeles County told families to consider removing loved ones from long-term facilities to help protect their health. More than 120 facilities in the county are believed to have outbreaks of coronavirus. The following day, in California’s Riverside County, more than 80 residents were removed from the Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center when more than a dozen employees missed two consecutive days of work.
California governor orders nursing home residents transferred to Navy ship
April 10 - California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the transfer of some healthy nursing home residents to the U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy at the Port of Los Angeles to avoid exposure to coronavirus at affected facilities. The same day, the state of California sent 600 specialized nurses trained in infectious disease control to nursing homes and adult-care facilities to help with infected residents. The state has more than 1,200 skilled nursing facilities.
Nursing homes get COVID-19 test payments
April 15 - The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services increased payments to nursing homes for COVID-19 tests. It says Medicare will nearly double payment for certain testing in an effort to diagnose large numbers of cases rapidly.
Whistleblower nurse dies of COVID-19 in Massachusetts
April 10 - In Littleton, Massachusetts, a nurse who acted as a whistleblower about conditions at a nursing home died of coronavirus. She had publicly accused the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley of failing to handle the crisis and failing to be upfront with staff and residents.
Bodies discovered at New Jersey nursing home
April 13 - Acting on an anonymous tip, police discovered 17 bodies in bags at the 543-bed Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center II in New Jersey. The facility had been cited for overcrowding and sanitary conditions. By early May, 94 of the 133 residents who tested positive for COVID-19 were dead. On May 8, the nursing home was fined more than $220,000 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for violating infection prevention and control regulations.
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