Pandemic exposes low nursing home staffing

Twenty-six percent of nursing home residents who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 have died of the disease, according to Indiana State Department of Health statistics through Aug. 19. That’s nearly nine times the overall coronavirus death rate statewide, as reported by the GOSHEN (IN) News.

Residents of long-term care facilities have accounted for at least 60% of the state’s 3,041 COVID-19 deaths.

The substandard staffing levels of some nursing homes clearly contribute to residents’ susceptibility.

When the crisis struck, some nursing home employees left their jobs rather than risk infection, and the pool of workers offered by temporary employment agencies began to dry up. Continual measures to disinfect and safeguard the facilities, coupled with the needs of ill residents, dramatically increased workloads for overburdened staffs. As a result, resident care suffered.

Two-thirds of Hoosier long-term care facilities reporting 50 or more resident coronavirus cases have below-average staffing ratings of one or two stars out of five, the CNHI article noted. It cited federal government reports based on information provided by the Indiana State Department of Health.

Complaints to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration point to “skeletal” staffs and employees required to work double shifts. OSHA has looked into at least 31 complaints against Indiana nursing homes since the start of the pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, many Indiana long-term care facilities were understaffed. The Indianapolis Star reported this year that the state ranks 46th nationally in nursing home staffing.

While the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the problem, the underlying causes include low employee pay, difficult working conditions and inadequate government resources to help pay for elderly care.

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