Nursing Home Residents, Staff in COVID-19 Harm's Way

March 24, 2020
Peter Wehrwein
Peter Wehrwein

Washington State nursing home was "ground zero" of U.S. COVID-19, says Verma

CMS says that 147 nursing homes in 27 states have at least one resident with COVID-19, further evidence that in this country nursing homes residents are among the pandemic’s most vulnerable populations.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced yesterday that the agency was suspending routine inspections of nursing homes to focus on infection control. 

CMS also announced a self-assessment tool for infection control nursing homes. “Don’t wait to be inspected. Starting today you can - and should - use CMS’s self-assessment tool to ensure you’re prepared to prevent the spread of Coronavirus,” Verma was quoted as saying. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that the suspension of routine inspections also applies to home health and hospitals. Healthcare Finance reported that the CMS follows a decision last week by the Joint Commission to pause regular accreditation and certification surveys.

The John Hopkins Center for Health Security reported that as of 8:45 a.m. this morning, there are 46,485 cases of COVID-19 and 591 deaths in the U.S. There don't seem to be separate figures available for nursing home residents or staff. But there's no question that COVID-19 has hit nursing home residents and staff members especially hard. In her prepared remarks yesterday, Verma called The Life Care Center, a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, the “ground zero for the Coronavirus outbreak in America.” She cited a CDC report as saying that 81 residents, 34 staff members, and 14 visitors had become ill and that 26 people had died of COVID-19-related illness. Press reports have put the death toll related to the nursing home higher, at 35.

A quick Google search for news about COVID-19 and nursing homes shows just how serious a threat the disease is for the 15,000 nursing homes in the U.S. and their 1.3 million residents. In many states, nursing homes are where most of the COVID-19 cases are occurring and nursing home residents account for many if not most of the deaths. Here is just a partial list of news stories during the past few days:

  • Briarwood Nursing Home and Rehabilitation in Little Rock was described as the epicenter of the pandemic in Arkansas by a local TV station. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported that 35 residents and six staff members had tested positive. 

  • 26 of the 38 residents of a Shuksan Healthcare, a nursing home in Bellingham, Washington, and six staff members have tested positive, according to the Seattle Times. The newspaper reported in a story that had been updated early this morning that health officials have linked one death to the outbreak, a resident who had left the facility on March 10 and died in his home on Friday.

  • Two residents of the Evergreen Health Care Center in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, have died of COVID-19, the Connecticut Mirrorreported on Sunday.

  • Four residents of the Burlington Health and Rehab in Burlington, Vermont, have died of COVID-19, the NECN, the regional television news channel for New England, reported Monday.

  • An administrator and a resident of the Family of Care nursing home in Montclair, New Jersey, have died of COVID-19, according to several news reports.

The CMS announcement on Monday about inspections says that federal and state inspectors will conduct “targeted infection control” using a streamlined checklist. The announcement says state agencies will continue to conduct inspections related to complaints that are triaged to the “immediate jeopardy” level.