Nursing homes struggle as COVID-19 threatens vulnerable residents

Nursing home
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Buffalo, NY (WBEN)  - Nursing homes have been described as 'ground zero' and the 'incubators' in the fight against COVID-19.  The aging population and concentrated environments are a 'breeding ground' for the virus, says New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In New York State there have been more than 3000 coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes and in Erie County there have been more than 70.

Nursing home staffers are dealing with COVID19 now, and experts say will continue to do so after the pandemic ends.

Stephen Hanse of the NYS Health Facilities Association says there are three major matters at hand: staffing, PPE, and testing for COVID19.

"Right now, we're experiencing shortages of staff. We have a number of staff who have contracted COVID19 and are unable to work. So, we're working with the state to allocate staff to work in nursing homes.

With regards to PPE, the three elements are gowns, masks, and faceguards. What we are doing is the state health department is doing a daily survey to nursing homes to see what supplies they have on hand, and to delineate and send out PPE as necessary," says Hanse.

If a hospital needs to discharge a COVID19 patient, Hanse says a nursing home can care for the patient, but "if for some reason they cannot, the individual will likely remain in the hospital. The nursing home resident who goes to the hospital for treatment for COVID19 will return to the nursing home. The nursing home is their home." 

Hanse says nursing homes are doing extensive cleaning, and have been since the pandemic broke out. "This virus finds its way to infect many people, and workers throughout the state are working hard to eradicate this," adds Hanse.

Dr. Bruce Troen of UB's Jacobs School of Medicine is throwing cold water on the notion COVID19 will soon go away.

"Even in a non-COVID19 pandemic time, there are 1 to 3 million serious infections that occur every year in long term facilities. Many of them are urinary tract infections. As many as 380,000 die each year," says Troen.

Troen notes nursing home regulations are excellent.

"Almost 30 years ago, there was a special federal law passed called the Omnibus Reconciliation Act which really was a seed of change in how nursing homes are regulated and patients are cared for. The challenge is how do you enforce the regulations, how do you help nursing homes to be better at doing that," notes Troen. He says there are no simple solutions because it has to do with funding, much of which comes from Medicaid, and whether nursing homes are for profit. One other concern, "I have to say it's unfortunate the administration of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Trump has been seeking to roll back some of these regulations, putting nursing homes further at risk of not being able to meet the challenges moving forward in the post-pandemic era," says Troen