(TheIndependentStar.com) – The most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic have been the elderly. Health officials made it quite clear that the public should protect older Americans by staying home, wearing masks, and not getting together with people outside their households.
While public health advice focused on protecting this group, there seems to have been an issue with how the virus was handled behind closed doors in nursing homes across the country.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Report Reveals Shocking Information
An HHS report released on Tuesday, June 22, presents sobering statistics from the past year. Perhaps the grimmest detail was the 32% increase from 2019 in the deaths of Medicare patients in nursing facilities. That’s 169,291 more lives lost in 2020 than in the previous year.
While these deaths occurred over the course of the full year, there were two spikes. The first occurred in April, with almost 1,000 more people dying each day than in April 2019. The second spike occurred in December, with 3.8% of all Medicare patients in nursing homes dying from the virus.
In addition, infection rates in care homes were off the charts. The report states 2 out of every 5 nursing home residents on Medicare had or were presumed to have had the virus in 2020. Some states were harder hit than others. By the end of 2020, half of all Medicare patients in nursing homes in Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, and New Jersey had or were suspected of having COVID-19.
What Went Wrong
While health officials are not surprised the virus hit this particular group hard, the number of deaths was beyond expectations. The report fails to show any concrete evidence as to what went wrong to produce the exceptional numbers.
There is a suggestion of a link between lower-income individuals and areas with higher death and infection rates. The report shows Medicare patients who also received Medicaid, an income-based government health insurance scheme, had higher rates of infection. In addition, people of color were more likely to get the virus.
Some experts blame the virus’ impact on the elderly on the difficulty of knowing exactly what was happening in nursing facilities. Medicare did not have mandatory reporting of infections for these organizations prior to May 8, 2020.
Other issues included transmission of the virus by workers and shortages of protective equipment. Once the virus entered a nursing home, the close living quarters allowed it to spread easily and quickly.
The good news is death rates have rapidly declined in line with the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Despite this, concerns remain about what will happen during the next pandemic, with people asking whether there is a way to better protect nursing homes against the threat.
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