A new report on Tuesday says that more than 40% of deaths from the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States have occurred in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.
“Much more attention must be paid to the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection in nursing homes, especially through nursing home staff who work at multiple facilities,” wrote Avik Roy and Gregg Girvan for the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.
“Nursing homes must use best practices for testing and cleanliness,” they wrote.
Analyzing state data on COVID-19 deaths, Roy and Girvan noted that, of the states reporting coronavirus deaths in long-term care centers, 43% of the overall deaths from the virus occurred in the centers; outside of New York state, that percentage rose to 53%.
New York, they said, may be an “outlier” among state reports because the volume of deaths outside of nursing homes may have driven the percentage share of nursing home deaths down. New York also reportedly changed how it was counting COVID nursing home deaths in early May; nursing home patients who died from the virus at a hospital were not counted as nursing home deaths.
The death rates at nursing homes were particularly high in the Northeast. In New Jersey, almost one in ten nursing home residents died from the virus, with 954 COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes per 10,000 residents. In Connecticut, the number of fatalities per 10,000 residents was 827; in Massachusetts, it was 703.
However, in some other states such as Minnesota, the percentage of coronavirus deaths at nursing homes—as a share of overall deaths from the virus—was extremely high.
In Minnesota, more than 81% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes, as of May 22. In Rhode Island, 77% of virus deaths happened in nursing homes; in Ohio, 70% of COVID-19 deaths occurred at nursing homes, and New Hampshire was close behind at 69.8%. Pennsylvania saw 69.2% of its deaths from the virus occur in nursing homes.
In the wake of reports of the high number of deaths in nursing homes, some have pointed to policies of several states that sent positive COVID patients to nursing homes, to free up hospital beds. New York, New Jersey, California, and Pennsylvania instructed nursing homes that they could not refuse COVID patients discharged from hospitals.
Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that nursing homes already had problems of poor training or funding before the pandemic struck.
Sending patients who had COVID to nursing homes started an “uncontrollable wildfire of infection and death,” he told CNA. However, he added, as nursing homes and long-term care facilities “were already pushed to the margins of our culture, it actually made sense that the dignity of these residents and workers was ignored and their lives discarded.”
The high percentage of U.S. nursing home deaths from the virus was reflected in other countries, Roy and Girvan wrote.
They cited a study by the International Long Term Care Policy Network that analyzed COVID deaths in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In those countries, more than 40% of reported COVID-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes.
“States and localities should consider reorienting their policy responses away from younger and healthier people, and toward the elderly, and especially elderly individuals living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities,” Roy and Girvan wrote.