Opinion: New report slams the nursing home COVID-19 massacre

Opinion: New report slams the nursing home COVID-19 massacre

Devastating shortages of nurses and nurse’s aides are the main reason COVID-19 has resulted in such a massacre of the elderly in nursing homes and care homes, according to a new report.

And the shortages got worse last year, not better—even though everyone in positions of authority knew full well about the crisis, which has killed more than 100,000 nursing home residents and staff.

As long ago as May, 15% of U.S. nursing homes had too few nurses and 17% had too few nurse’s aides to provide adequate care, reports the nonprofit Public Interest Research Group, based on government data.

By December? Those figures were up to 19% and 21%.

Geographically, the worst nursing and nurse’s aides shortages have been across the Midwest and in the Northwest, PIRG reports. And that’s broadly speaking been where the nursing homes are now seeing the worst death rates, the AARP finds.

Many homes continue to report shortages of N95 masks and other personal protective equipment, the PIRG reports. More than 3% of nursing homes, or about 500 nationwide, report shortages of hand sanitizer.

As we previously reported, the AARP has already slammed pretty much everyone involved in the management of the industry, from the operators to regulators to lawmakers, for this fiasco.

Nursing homes hold less than half of 1% of the U.S. population, but account for about 25% of all COVID deaths.

Or, to put it another way: Out of the 1.3 million Americans in nursing homes last year, about 8% have apparently died of (or with) COVID.

Possibly the only good news is that many people ended up yanking their elderly family members out of these disaster zones altogether, at least for the holidays. “The total number of residents in all homes dropped by 52,908 from Nov. 22 to Dec. 6, likely in part because families took loved ones home before Thanksgiving and the December holidays,” PIRG reports.

The treatment of people in nursing homes has been utterly unconscionable. Yet we have known right from the start that this disease overwhelmingly targeted the sick and elderly.

As long ago as March 17 the Italian government reported that 88% of the dead were over 70 (and 99% had one or more underlying condition). The latest figures from New York City? Healthy people under 65 account for just 0.5% of the dead—about 100 people out of 21,000.

Compare those figures with how society has allocated money and resources.

The Peterson Foundation estimates the U.S. government has spent about $3.5 trillion on the crisis so far. It’s going to be interesting to see in retrospect how much of that has been dedicated to protecting those most at risk and how much of it was wasted.

Awkward factoid: If we’d spent all that money on the nursing homes, it would have worked out at $2.7 million for every resident.

But no, we apparently “didn’t have the money” to protect the vulnerable. It’s not just about money, of course. Despite the easy headlines.

Under the previous administration the U.S. Justice Department in August opened an investigation into the states that actually ordered nursing homes to take COVID patients, moves that may have caused thousands of needless deaths. Those states included Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, whose governor, Andrew Cuomo, apparently found the time nonetheless to write a bestselling book about his leadership during the crisis.

As Cuomo said recently on TV, without irony, “Incompetent government kills people. More people died than needed to die in COVID.”

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