Nursing home reform has been a topic of discussion for years. Now, Covid-19 is highlighting several issues with the nursing home system, including improper staffing, lack of testing kits and protective equipment, and weak lines of communication between families and their loved ones. Nursing homes are breeding pools for viruses like Covid-19 and need to be adequately prepared for a future outbreak. Recent reports suggest that 1 in 5 coronavirus deaths are related to individuals residing in or associated with nursing homes.
Staffing shortages and high turnover have plagued the U.S. nursing home industry for years. Around 25% of nursing homes reported staff shortages during the last couple of weeks in May. A reported four in 10 nursing homes do not meet staffing regulations in California, the state with the highest nursing home standards. Most U.S. nursing homes would fail to meet strict staffing requirements. Covid-19 has increased nursing home staffing strain due to staff quitting in large numbers out of illness fears. Nursing home managers are pressured to hide the dangers of the outbreaks to retain low-wage staff.
Most nursing homes still do not have enough testing kits for patients and staff. As of April, New York still had mandated testing for all patients and staff, although New York is the leader of Covid-19 nursing home deaths. A reported 1 in 3 U.S. nursing homes has access to Covid-19 testing. A lack of testing in nursing homes is putting everyone at risk and may be contributing to fear in the staff.
Covid-19 is not only putting patients at risk physically but also mentally, with many patients not seeing their families for several months. This social isolation can cause depression as well as mask patient neglect or mistreatment. AARP recommends that nursing homes be required to use platforms like Zoom and Facetime to facilitate virtual visits. Virtual video platforms have been found to combat social isolation and allow the family a glimpse of how the patient is doing.
AARP is calling for a plan to increase Covid-19 testing, retain staff, and increase virtual visits between nursing home residents and their families, which may be easier said than done. Progress is being made in that nursing homes are now federally required to inform residents, families/representatives, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about new COVID-19 cases. The American Health Care Association praised the new rule changes, and even nursing homes are not required to make new Covid-19 cases public daily. With the rate of the spread of the virus, advocates for nursing home reform strongly suggest notifying the public immediately of new cases.