The coronavirus pandemic continues to overwhelm U.S. nursing homes. Suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) and staffing are critical to protect nursing home residents and staff during current and future COVID-19 outbreaks. By the end of August 2020, over 100,000 deaths had occurred in U.S. nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, accounting for nearly half of all COVID-related fatalities nationwide.
Many staff members have contracted COVID-19, with over 1,200 staff deaths from the virus as of August 30, 2020. Efforts to reduce the spread of the virus are also taking a huge toll on residents as nursing homes endured weeks of a federally-mandated all-out lockdown with no visitation, communal dining or activities allowed as of March in most facilities. Only recently have these restrictions begun to be relaxed and only on a limited basis in certain states.
As of today, more than 20% of the country’s nursing homes reported critical shortages of personal protective equipment and staff, a study published in the journal Health Affairs found. Through mid-July, about 20.7% reported a severe shortage of PPE (less than one-week supply), and 20.8% reported shortages of staff. Through mid-August, 19.1% reported PPE shortages, and 21.9% reported staff shortages.
Shortages were more often reported by facilities with active coronavirus cases among residents and staff. And given that the most vulnerable nursing homes are at the highest risk, additional targeted financial support — combined with oversight to ensure that the funds are used as intended — would help address some of the many financial challenges stemming from the pandemic for nursing homes, the researchers concluded.
“Many nursing homes in the US are poorly prepared to prevent and manage COVID-19 outbreaks given a lack of essential PPE and staff,” the authors wrote. “Despite intense policy attention and mounting mortality, the shortages have not meaningfully improved from May to July of 2020. Unless these shortages are prioritized by policymakers, long-term care residents will continue to be at a great disadvantage in the pandemic.”