Coronavirus Puts Ugly Spotlight on Nursing Homes

The outbreak's 'ground-zero' has long-running problems
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 21, 2020 1:30 PM CDT
Why Nursing-Home Outbreaks Are So Bad
A person is loaded into an ambulance, Thursday, March 12, 2020, at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Burgeoning coronavirus outbreaks at nursing homes in Washington, Illinois, New Jersey, and elsewhere are laying bare the industry’s long-running problems, including a struggle to control infections and a staffing crisis that relies on poorly paid aides who can't afford to stay home sick, the AP reports. That came into clear focus at the deadliest single spot in the nation's coronavirus crisis, the Life Care Center in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, where federal investigators believe a contributing factor in 35 deaths so far was low-pay workers who came to work with the illness and potentially even spread it to other nearby facilities where they took shifts. Beyond that outbreak, at least 15 more have died and dozens have been infected at long-term care facilities across the nation.

That includes major outbreaks of 46 infected in the Chicago suburb of Willowbrook, four deaths in at least two facilities in New Jersey, 13 infected in Little Rock, Arkansas, and 11 infected in Troy, Ohio, with 30 more showing symptoms. "Nursing homes would always have been ground zero, but given we already have huge staffing shortages, this will be magnified," said David Grabowski, a Harvard Medical School professor. Most troubling, he said, is that 75 percent of the nation's nursing homes don't meet federal suggested minimum levels for staffing and many workers are inexperienced. Four out of five nursing home employees are hourly workers, and given the low wages often leave for retail and restaurant jobs just as they become familiar with proper care procedures.

(More coronavirus stories.)

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