The COVID Tracking Project reports 39% of U.S. deaths attributed to the coronavirus have occurred in nursing homes across the United States. In Illinois, the rate is even higher at 50.3% of the 7,559 statewide fatalities as of Dec. 22.
In early December, a report released by the AARP said much of that loss of life could have been prevented. The advocacy group says the disproportionate deaths for nursing home residents is caused by poor government oversight and a lack of accountability in the industry.
Who is at fault?
AARP researchers interviewed dozens of experts, including doctors, historians, nursing home residents and staff, scientists and government officials at all levels. They identified four areas that left nursing home residents more at risk:
- Outdated laws: Laws still in effect from the 1950s and 60s make most nursing homes hospital-like settings and make most facilities reliant on government funding. Likewise, Medicaid rules force many seniors into nursing homes against their wishes.
- Government officials: The most significant error was failing to provide early and comprehensive testing to residents and staff. Even so, experts say many lives could have been saved if state and federal officials had acted quickly to make the health of residents in these facilities a priority. In fact, the opposite occurred.
- Lack of coordination: No clear federal leadership ever emerged in responding to the crisis. That led to state and federal governments, health agencies and nursing home providers expecting each other to take the lead. Individual facilities didn’t have the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed, leaving states to fend for themselves to acquire the equipment. Inspections were suspended, and even though cash was available from government programs, no accountability existed over how it was spent.
- Nursing home industry: Even critics of the industry say companies faced an uphill battle against COVID-19. However, poor decisions and policies abounded as many of these facilities were underfunded and understaffed before the crisis began. Meanwhile, many for-profit companies made cuts to protect their bottom lines leaving residents and staff even more vulnerable.
Nursing home operators try to shift the blame
The nursing home industry began actively pursuing legal immunity over virus deaths shortly after the pandemic started. The American Health Care Association, which represents 14,000 nursing homes in the U.S., announced a $15 million media campaign last summer to boost public opinion.
However, the industry cannot escape the devastating statistics. Nearly 70% of nursing homes are for-profit businesses. One report, commissioned in Connecticut, revealed in August that for-profit ventures were responsible for 60% of all nursing home COVID-19 cases and deaths compared to nonprofits.