By Mike Festa, State Director, AARP Massachusetts
The latest release of AARP’s Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard depicts a worsening crisis from coast to coast, including Massachusetts. In the four-week period ending Dec. 20, 47.6% of nursing homes in the Bay State reported residents with confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 84.8% with at least one staff member diagnosed.
In Massachusetts, the rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes have increased. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 95 percent of the deaths from COVID-19 have been among people 50 and older. Nursing home deaths account for 35% of all COVID-related deaths in the Bay State.
From Nov. 23 to Dec. 20, Massachusetts nursing homes had:
- 5.7 new COVID-19 cases per 100 residents, up from 4.9 in the previous four-week period
- 1.0 COVID-19 deaths per 100 residents, up from .59
- 5.4 new staff COVID-19 cases per 100 residents, up from 4.8
Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) have declined slightly over the same period, from 12% of nursing homes without a one-week supply in December to 8.2% in January. Meanwhile, staffing shortages remain a concern, with 6.5% of facilities reporting a shortage in the most recent dashboard, and little change going back to June 2020.
Almost a year into the pandemic, nursing home residents and staff remain trapped in a petri dish, nearly defenseless against coronavirus. While vaccines will not make nursing home residents safe overnight, this dashboard underscores the urgency of vaccinating residents and staff as quickly as possible. Also, given that nearly every nursing home reported staff infections and resident cases, it is alarming that so many facilities still do not have adequate PPE.
The continuing coronavirus crisis in nursing homes also spotlights the life-and-death need for fundamental reforms, now. For years, the nursing home industry in Massachusetts has struggled with poor infection control, understaffing, and quality care issues.
AARP continues to urge elected officials to act immediately, focusing this year on:
- Enacting or making permanent the components of AARP’s five-point plan:
- Prioritizing regular and ongoing testing and adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for residents and staff—as well as inspectors and any visitors.
- Improving transparency focused on daily, public reporting of cases and deaths in facilities; communication with families about discharges and transfers; and accountability for state and federal funding that goes to facilities.
- Ensuring access to in-person visitation following federal and state guidelines for safety, and require continued access to virtual visitation for all residents.
- Ensuring quality care for residents through adequate staffing, oversight, and access to in-person formal advocates, called long-term care Ombudsmen.
- Rejecting immunity for long-term care facilities related to COVID-19.
- Establishing minimum nursing staffing standards
- Ensuring progress is made so that in-person visitation can safely occur and facilitating virtual visitation
- Creating a pathway for single occupancy rooms in nursing homes
The AARP COVID-19 Nursing Home Dashboard analyzes federally reported data in four-week periods going back to June 1, 2020. Earlier this year, AARP fought for public reporting of nursing home COVID-19 cases and deaths. Using this data, the AARP Public Policy Institute, in collaboration with the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio, created the dashboard to provide snapshots of the virus’ infiltration into nursing homes and impact on nursing home residents and staff, with the goal of identifying specific areas of concern at the national and state levels in a timely manner.
The full COVID-19 Nursing Home Dashboard is available at www.aarp.org/nursinghomedashboard. For more information on how COVID is impacting nursing homes and AARP’s advocacy on this issue, visit www.aarp.org/nursinghomes.
Mike Festa is the State Director for AARP Massachusetts.