As nursing homes throughout the U.S. continue to struggle with the best ways to protect the vulnerable elderly population amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs has launched an independent probe into an infection outbreak that has killed dozens of veterans at a single Illinois nursing home facility.
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it is investigating a COVID-19 nursing home facility outbreak at the state-run LaSalle Veterans Home, just south of Chicago. A recent spike in coronavirus cases at the nursing home has left nearly 200 residents and staff members infected, resulting in at least 27 deaths.
According to preliminary data, a staff member and resident of the facility tested positive for COVID-19 in late October, and nearly two-thirds of the residents and employees have tested positive since then.
The State’s Public Health Department consultant, Dr. Avery Hart, stated that although there have been outbreaks of the virus in all 16 long-term nursing home facilities in LaSalle County, this particular facility has seen one of the fastest rates of transmission and fatalities.
The investigation was the focus of a state Senate committee virtual hearing last week, and will involve a review of whether proper COVID-19 nursing home protocols were followed, which are intended to prevent the rapid spread of infections in facilities.
COVID-19 Nursing Home Risks
According to a report released by CMS in early June, more than one-quarter of all coronavirus deaths nationwide occurred in nursing home facilities, making those over 65 years of age or with preexisting health conditions one of the most vulnerable populations.
With more than 1.3 million residents in over 15,000 Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes throughout the United States, significant attention has been placed on COVID-19’s progress through nursing homes. Many experts have suggests that the nursing homes that were hit the hardest had low levels of staffing, a lack of preparation, and other known problems that allowed the virus to spread rapidly.
Federal investigators are exploring the possibility of nursing home neglect playing a role in several of the COVID-19 outbreak, including a facility in Washington State that became the coronavirus epicenter when the U.S. pandemic first emerged earlier this year. Investigators say the nursing home failed to respond to the outbreak adequately, placing residents in jeopardy of illness and death.
In August, the Maryland Office of Health Care Quality announced several nursing home COVID-19 fines after state investigations discovered the facilities failed to properly isolate potentially contagious residents, resulting 270 cases of the virus and 78 resident fatalities among three facilities.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study in September, which highlighted a link between COVID-19 and nursing home quality of care, indicating facilities which scored better in federal ratings have been less likely to experience severe outbreaks at their facilities.
On November 17, two U.S. Senators issued a joint press release announcing the bipartisan bill, The Nursing Home Reform Modernization Act of 2020 (S. 4866) (PDF), which would expand the oversight over nursing homes which have been designated as Special Focus Facilities, by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, due to a record of repeated poor performance in inspections and evaluations.