Nursing Homes Poor Care Makes Residents Susceptible to COVID-19

A worker at a nursing home sanitizes a handrail. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Nursing homes represent 0.6 percent of the U.S. population, but nursing home residents are about 40 percent of the COVID-19 deaths nationwide, according to Dr. Charlene Harrington, Gerontologist and Professor of Sociology and Nursing at the University of California San Francisco.

She adds that 63 percent of U.S. nursing homes had infection control violations.

Dr. Harrington said the public must look at the background of nursing homes. “For the last 20 years, there have been serious quality of care problems. About 70 percent of nursing homes are for-profit.” She links that with poor care as owners keep staff low to make larger profit margins.

“We know that before the virus hit, three-quarters of nursing homes had inadequate staffing of registered nurses. So when the virus hit, it spread like wildfire through nursing homes,” said Harrington.

She points out a new study that shows nursing homes with low staffing, low quality of care, and large populations are twice as likely to get the COVID-19 virus.

She said minorities are more likely to be placed in nursing homes with the lowest staffing and poorest quality of care. Staff at nursing homes are also overrepresented by minorities and are at greatest risk because of the lack of testing and adequate PPEs. 

Many of them are nursing assistants who receive low pay and generally do not have sick leave. She said this is a problem because they are reluctant to stay home when they are sick, which contributes to the potential for spreading COVID-19 at nursing homes.

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