Unsafe Staffing Correlates with COVID

Unsafe Staffing and COVID Deaths.

The Times Union reported on the New York Attorney General’s investigation into COVID deaths in nursing homes. The problem is short or unsafe staffing. The report released last month drew attention that staffing levels at nursing homes directly correlated with COVID-19 deaths. The profitable industry practice of insufficient and unsafe staffing had “simply snapped” under the stress of the pandemic

“Preliminary investigations indicate that when there were insufficient staff to care for residents, some nursing homes pressured, knowingly permitted, or incentivized existing employees who were ill (with COVID-19) or met quarantine criteria to report to work and even work multiple consecutive shifts, in violation of infection control protocols,” the report said.

The report found that homes that entered the pandemic with low staffing ratings from the CMS had more deaths per resident than homes with the highest CMS staffing rates. Of course, for-profit facilities were the worst offenders. Large national chains were the worse of the worst.  Predictably.

The report also found that the staffing-to-deaths correlation persisted even after analysts took into account geographic variance among nursing facilities. This demonstrably refutes the false argument that community transmission rates were to blame for deadly outbreaks, not staffing levels.

Industry-wide Problem

The report was unsurprising. Even prior to the pandemic, infection control violations were common at nursing homes. Inspection reports show washing hands after caring for a patient are skipped when staffing is unsafe. Consumer advocates, elder law experts, and industry critics have warned about inadequate staffing levels in the nation’s nursing homes for decades. As a nursing home lawyer, we see unsafe staffing in almost every case. Richard Mollot is the executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition. He said:

“We’ve always known — and not just known intuitively, as residents and families do — but known because there’s plenty of research showing that the higher the staffing levels, the better the care. And conversely, when you have too-low staffing levels residents are at serious risk.”

Aileen Gunther is a nurse and state Assemblywoman. She sponsored a bill that would establish minimum staffing ratios in nursing homes.

“I’m not a scientist, but my brain works pretty well,” Gunther said. “And it’s so obvious that (staffing levels) did make a difference with the number of coronavirus deaths. I mean, god, when are they going to wake up and see if you have more staff you decrease these kinds of risks? If they don’t see that now, when will they?”

Fortunately, the number of Americans hospitalized with Covid is at its lowest since early November. Sixty-seven percent of Americans, including 34% of Republicans, approve of Biden’s response to the coronavirus.