As we continue to see COVID-19 cases grow in our area—not just total cases, but cases reported over the past two weeks—we are increasing the likelihood the disease is going to impact some of our most vulnerable residents—those living in nursing homes.
According to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), which represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities across the country that provide care to approximately five million people each year, a recent report showed that nursing homes in the U.S. have experienced an alarming spike in new COVID cases due to community spread among the general population, according to data recently released from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
The CMS data shows COVID cases in nursing homes significantly increased last month after having dropped significantly throughout the month of June. Experts have repeatedly noted that COVID-19 cases in a surrounding community is a top factor in outbreaks in nursing homes. Dr. David Grabowski, professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, recently stated, “According to preliminary research presented, larger facilities located in urban areas with large populations, particularly in counties with a higher prevalence of COVID-19 cases, were more likely to have reported cases.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that an outbreak in a local nursing home can’t happen in our area if we don’t take the recommended precautions. The more cases we have, the more the chance increases that someone who works in an area nursing home (or the Veterans Home) will get exposed and bring it to work while they are asymptomatic. With visitation basically shut down at our nursing homes, the most likely for COVID-19 to get into a nursing home is with a staff member.
“With the recent major spikes of COVID cases in many states across the country, we were very concerned this trend would lead to an increase in cases in nursing homes and unfortunately it has,” stated Mark Parkinson, President and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living in a recent news release. “This is especially troubling since many nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are still unable to acquire the personal protective equipment and testing they need to fully combat this virus.”
The report also showed COVID-related deaths in nursing homes had declined significantly but have started to uptick again in recent weeks.
Parkinson and AHCA/NCAL recently sent a letter to the National Governors Association (NGA) warning states of imminent outbreaks at nursing homes and assisted living facilities given the major spikes in new cases in several states across the U.S., combined with serious PPE shortages and significant delays in getting testing results for long-term care residents and caregivers which has been taking up to five days or more.
Using data from Johns Hopkins University, AHCA/NCAL released a state-by-state breakdown showing 33 states, including Missouri, with a positive COVID-19 test rate of higher than five percent and data from CMS indicating many nursing homes are still facing significant PPE supply shortages especially for N95 masks and gowns.
We must do better nationally to protect our nursing home residents. AHCA/NCAL is calling on public health officials to take immediate steps to protect nursing homes and assisted living communities especially in areas with significant uptick in new COVID cases.
Parkinson is also urging Congress for an additional $100 billion for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Provider Relief Fund, which is accessible for all health care providers impacted by COVID-19, and that a sizeable portion of the fund be dedicated to helping nursing homes and assisted living communities acquire resources associated with protecting vulnerable residents and staff from the virus, including constant testing, PPE and staff support.
You can get more information at www.ahcancal.org/coronavirus.