Nursing Homes COVID-19 Outbreaks More Likely To Be Prevented With Adequate Staffing: Study

The findings of a new study highlights the importance of nursing home staffing levels during the coronavirus pandemic, indicating it may play a direct role in whether a facility can effectively prevent widespread COVID-19 infections among its residents.

Since the emergence of the novel coronavirus in the United States, researchers from Harvard and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston estimate about 27% of the more than 170,000 deaths associated with the pandemic have occurred among nursing home residents.

In a study published on August 10 in the Journal for the American Medical Association (JAMA), the researchers found that those states with facilities that have the appropriate amount of nursing home staff perform better at preventing outbreaks than those in states where facilities fared poorly in staffing level assessments.

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The study involved a review of data from eight state health departments; including California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, in order to determine the number of COVID-19 cases which occurred in nursing homes (NHs) from January 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020. The researchers then looked at the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Nursing Home Compare site, which evaluates at how nursing homes perform in several different metrics, including health inspections, quality measures and nurse staffing.

According to their findings, the one factor that seemed to affect the likelihood of COVID-19 infections was nursing home staffing levels. Facilities which scored higher were less likely to have more than 30 COVID-19 cases, than those who had lower scores for staffing. The researchers found these facilities tended to be smaller, with fewer beds.

There was no significant outbreak difference when the researchers looked at the scores for quality measures and health inspections.

“These findings suggest that poorly resourced NHs with nursing staff shortages may be more susceptible to the spread of COVID-19,” the researchers determined. “Although the guidance on best practices on infection control are important, which has been the primary strategy used by CMS to date, policies that provide immediate staffing support may be more effective at mitigating the spread of COVID-19.”

Failure to provide adequate staffing has long been considered a major problem in U.S. nursing homes, and is often considered a risk factor for nursing home neglect injuries.

Federal investigators are exploring the possibility of nursing home neglect playing a role in the COVID-19 outbreak, which was first detected in a nursing home in Washington State that became the epicenter for the U.S. pandemic. Investigators say the nursing home failed to respond to the outbreak adequately, placing residents in jeopardy of illness and death.

Facing growing criticism and lawsuits, many nursing homes are seeking immunity from coronavirus death lawsuits.

Federal officials now recommend all nursing home residents and staff be tested for COVID-19.

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