America’s senior citizens have taken the brunt of the impact from COVID-19, suffering a mortality rate higher than any other age demographic by far.
Even worse yet, for many seniors, they can’t enact social distancing measures because they live in a group setting such as a nursing home.
Nursing homes have served as a terrifying example of how underprepared we were as a nation for an infectious disease pandemic. They house the highest-risk population in perhaps the worst system for fighting a disease like the Coronavirus. And the result is not good.
Daily headlines are filled with new stories about the latest outbreak at a nursing home somewhere in America. Thirty-six deaths at one facility. Over 100 confirmed cases among staff and residents at another. The numbers keep getting higher.
Experts believe that a viable solution may be to try to move as many seniors as possible out of these facilities to flatten the curve. But this isn’t as easy as it sounds, as many seniors are in long-term care because they need assistance and have nowhere else to go.
Nursing homes have medical capabilities of a reasonably high level. Because of this, they’re now being utilized by states whose medical systems have been overwhelmed by COVID-19.
New York and New Jersey have both ordered nursing homes to accept patients who’ve been discharged from the hospital but are still recovering from COVID-19. This controversial move is to free up beds in hospitals that don’t have enough room due to the influx of Coronavirus patients.
Meeting this shift is some pretty harsh criticism. The critical issue is that we are not making a distinction between facilities that have suffered a COVID-19 outbreak and those that haven’t. If we start admitting patients who are positive for the Coronavirus to facilities that are sheltered from it, it could mean a massive outbreak among those with the highest mortality risk. This contagion means many new cases would flood into hospitals, defeating the purpose of the entire plan.
Many states, like California, have emergency waivers in place that expand the capacity of nursing homes and reduce staffing. Most facilities have already cut staff to a bare minimum to help prevent infection.
California was close to mirroring New York and New Jersey’s orders to accept COVID-19 patients before it changed the wording at the last minute, instructing nursing homes to expect to receive residents who test positive for the virus if they are able to follow the CDC’s recommendations for infection control. This makes sense since nationwide supply shortages have made it impossible for all to comply.
We don’t have the benefit of hindsight because we’ve never been through a situation like this before.
These states are trying to solve a problem and feel this is a viable solution to overwhelming medical systems. But based on what we have experienced so far from this pandemic, this could prove to be a monumental error in judgment. Only time will tell.