Nursing home residents and staff could be in great danger if states open too soon
‘This virus is so infectious and so insidious — it will make its way into long-term care facilities’
Governors are weighing their options as to when their states should be reopened, but doing so too soon could have a devastating impact on nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, experts say.
“This virus is so infectious and so insidious — it will make its way into long-term care facilities,” said Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, Parkinson, who formerly served as the Kansas governor between 2009 and 2011, said opening states too quickly could result in another spike in COVID-19 cases in these centers, or any congregate care setting.
States with a higher number of cases will be in especially grave danger, he said. The likelihood of having COVID-19 cases in these centers has less to do with the size or background of the facility, and much more to do with where it’s located. “There is a direct correlation between COVID in the community and the presence of COVID in long-term care facilities,” he said.
Nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other long-term care centers house some of the people most vulnerable to the coronavirus. The elderly and immunocompromised are at a higher risk of complications or death after contracting the virus, though younger people can also suffer the same consequences if infected, cases have shown.
Still, global data have proven nursing homes are hit hard when in contact with the illness.
One of the first outbreaks in the U.S. occurred at a nursing home in Washington state, killing at least 26 residents beginning in mid-February. Since then, thousands more who live or associate with these facilities have died. Maryland confirmed about half of coronavirus victims were nursing home residents, the Washington Post reported.
About a fifth of all coronavirus deaths in the country have been linked to nursing homes, according to a New York Times analysis. One million Americans have died from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Half of the coronavirus deaths in Europe happened in nursing homes, according to the World Health Organization. And at least half of all coronavirus deaths in Canada were also in nursing homes, Reuters reported. “We are failing our parents, our grandparents, our elders — the greatest generation who built this country,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “We need to care for them properly.”
Long-term care facilities restricted access to visitors last month in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and that policy will likely continue for the foreseeable future, especially if states reopen, Parkinson said. These facilities are also hoping to obtain more protective equipment, testing and funding, as centers are exhausting all of their current resources. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, has already expedited direct shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies to more than 15,000 nursing homes in the U.S. — but they need more, Parkinson said.
He called on federal and state governments to prioritize nursing homes and assisted living facilities when providing tests. He also said the federal government through the Department of Health and Human Services should create an emergency response fund for long-term care facilities, the way it did for hospitals.
“Without adequate funding and resources, long-term care facilities will not be able to overcome this unprecedented health crisis and protect our residents and caregivers,” Parkinson said. “We need the financial resources to support expanded testing and securing vital personal protective equipment.”