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Nursing Homes Residents Feeling Trapped During Pandemic

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The terrible irony for the elderly in nursing facilities is that family and friends who came to visit their loved ones, staff caregivers who went room to room to care for the residents, and other residents at the facility, are likely sources of the virus spreading.

By Al Norman

As of 2017, there were 15,483 nursing facilities in America. These nursing facilities have 1.5 million residents. Nearly 3 out of 4 facilities (70 percent) are operated for profit. One third of the people in nursing facilities receive care that is rated below average according to the federal government’s Medicare Compare website.

The federal data base uses a 5-star rating system to measure nursing facilities based on results of health inspections, staffing, and quality measures. But it contains no data at all on COVID-19 cases or deaths at each facility.

On April 7, I filed two public records act requests with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: one seeking COVID cases and death data by specific nursing facilities, the other seeking similar data for the home-based personal care attendant program. On April 20, the state released for the first-time data by specific nursing facility. No data was released for assisted living facilities, or home care programs.

Unfortunately, the data groups nursing facilities by ranges: under 10, between 10 and 30, and over 30 cases. Out of 377 nursing facilities in Massachusetts, 218 facilities (58 percent) reported two or more COVID cases, while 159 facilities (42 percent) reported one or less cases. The state report footnotes that “facilities not on this list may have COVID-19 cases that have not yet been identified.” The data published by the Administration of Governor Baker is a start — but it’s significantly incomplete.

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Norman

The Massachusetts data released for April 20 showed a total of nearly 39,643 COVID cases and 1,809 deaths. On one of our state’s worst days — April 11 — around six people were dying per hour from COVID. The data for confirmed COVID cases, compared to COVID deaths, are quite different. Roughly 39 percent of the COVID cases are people over the age of 60, but the highest single age group is the 50 to 59 year-olds.

The death numbers reveal that a staggering 95 percent of the people dying from this virus are people over the age of 60, and the average age of those dying is 81 years of age. 52 percent of the deaths as of April 19 were people in nursing facilities. COVID affects many, but is especially lethal to the elderly.

A recent New York Times story documented more than 2,500 nursing homes and other long term care facilities across America with COVID cases. More than 21,000 residents and staff members at those facilities caught the virus, and 3,800 have died. A few days before Massachusetts put its COVID numbers out, the Associated Press reported that the state of New York, after weeks of refusing to release facility-specific data, began disclosing outbreaks at 68 individual nursing facilities, including one facility in Brooklyn where 55 people died, and four other institutions with at least 40 deaths. The New York COVID deaths account for nearly 40 percent of the 6,912 COVID deaths inside nursing facilities.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now requiring nursing facilities to notify patients and families within 24 hours if a resident gets the virus or dies. Until recently, Cuomo said nursing facility data should be kept private. Connecticut also is also publishing institution-specific nursing facility data. Nursing facility residents account for 375 of the state’s 971 virus deaths.”

A story aired by WCVB Channel 5 in Boston reported that 40 percent of the developmentally disabled being cared for at a state-run facility in Danvers, Mass. tested positive for the corona virus. The state Department of Developmental Disabilities has refused to provide data at it group facilities, and data on the state’s 55,000 personal care workers and COVID virus have not been published either.

The terrible irony for the elderly in nursing facilities is that family and friends who came to visit their loved ones, staff caregivers who went room to room to care for the residents, and other residents at the facility, are likely sources of the virus spreading. These elders did not come to the virus — the virus found them where they live. Elders in these media stories complain of feeling “trapped” inside the nursing facility.

One reader commented on the New York Times story: “We need to rethink how we house and care for the elderly, because this virus is likely to be with us for many years. Aggregating our aged and vulnerable may not work anymore as a care model.”

Al Norman worked in the Massachusetts eldercare network for 38 years. He can be reached at alnormaneldercare@gmail.com.

 

 

 

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