Despite the vaccines, older nursing homes are struggling with COVID-19


Jeannie Wells had hoped that regular visits would resume at her elderly mother’s New York nursing home once all residents had been completely vaccinated against COVID-19.

Around Easter, her wish finally came true, and she was able to hold on to her 93-year-old hand for more than a year after taking her mother to the rehabilitation facility for a hip and knee fracture.

But that meeting was short-lived. Visits were stopped early for about six weeks after an employee gave a positive test for COVID, and Wells said visits are still far from normal even when there have been outbreaks.

COVID-19 vaccines have allowed U.S. nursing homes to make dramatic progress since the dark times of the pandemic, but older care facilities have still experienced scattered outbreaks that are largely blamed on non-staff members. vaccinated. Subsequent outbreaks and stops shocked family members who had begun to enjoy in-person visits with their loved ones for the first time in a year.

While the outbreaks in nursing homes are now much smaller, less frequent and less severe than during the height of the pandemic, there continue to be hundreds of deaths each week attributed to the coronavirus. According to federal data, 472 deaths in nursing homes were related to COVID-19 in the first two weeks of May, up from 10,675 in the first two weeks of January.

“There’s this notion among some that vaccines have been administered in long-term care, so we’re done, and that would be a dangerous mistake,” said Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer of the American National Health Association. nursing home trade association, in a recent statement. “Nursing homes and assisted living communities have a continuous flow of new residents, coming from the hospital or the community, and many of them have not yet been vaccinated.”

In addition, the CDC has warned that low vaccination rates among health care workers in skilled nursing facilities increase the risks of outbreaks.

A March outbreak with a variant in a Kentucky nursing home, where most residents have been vaccinated for COVID-19, was traced to an infected, unvaccinated worker, according to a CDC report. Among the 46 cases identified, 26 residents and 20 workers were infected, including 18 residents and four workers who were completely vaccinated 14 days before the fire.

Three of the nursing home residents who contracted COVID-19 died, including two who were not vaccinated. According to another recent CDC report, so-called “advanced” infections among vaccinated individuals have been identified in nursing homes in Chicago.

In Connecticut, Gov., Ned Lamont compared the challenge of keeping the virus out of nursing homes to the apparatus of “losing boats.” The state Department of Public Health has launched Operation Matchmaker to associate nursing homes with certain pharmacies to ensure new residents and staff receive blows. Hospitals also work to vaccinate patients before they are released into a nursing facility.

In view of the shortage of staff across the country, there has been a reluctance among long-term care providers to send vaccinations to their workers, said Dr. Vivian Leung, director of the State Department of Health. u Health Associated Infections Programs.

“We have been working with the care industry in the long run to really increase the pressure on vaccination of those people,” Leung said.


Tim Brown, director of marketing and communications at Athena Health Care Systems, which operates 48 plants in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, recently estimated about 50% to 60% of staff have been vaccinated so far, with 80% in some buildings.

“Across our network, we see onesies and twosies, especially with employees, though, who haven’t been vaccinated. That’s really where we see them,” Brown said of the infections. If a staff member tests positive, he said, buildings are quarantined and visits are put on hold while another round of staff tests is conducted. Personnel who are not vaccinated are tested regularly.

“If there are no other cases, or if the employee has not worked on a specific wing, then we allow the visit for that wing or for the wings that are not affected by the positive employee,” he said. .

Mairead Painter, Connecticut’s long-term care ombudsman, said recent state guidelines have clarified how facilities should manage these scattered outbreaks to minimize the impact they can have on the rest of the residents. and their families. She said this has led to fewer complaints being sent by her office.

But Debra Ellis, whose 88-year-old wife Jackie lives in a nursing home in Meriden, Conn, said the rules are always different for ease. Until recently, she had been frustrated by the strict limits of visits, including impromptu spells of more days when staff members took positive tests. Both she and his wife are vaccinated.

By mid-May, things were finally easing and she was allowed to enter her wife’s room. However, Ellis hears from relatives of residents in other care homes that this is not the case in other facilities in Connecticut.

Ellis is part of a group that pushes for both state and federal legislation that allows nursing home residents to have essential care. She said she could have helped her wife, who suffers from heart problems and leaned on Ellis before the pandemic for emotional support and exercises to keep her legs strong.

“I could get up and walk a short distance around the room to get to bed for a chair or something,” she said. “He’s no longer able to do that.”

It’s a similar experience for Wells, who said the nursing home where the mother lives doesn’t even have communal meals, group activities or hairdressing services. Wells, who lives in Rochester, said it was only last week that she was offered the opportunity to meet her mother outside and without masks. But after spending so much time isolated during the pandemic, Wells said her mother no longer knows who she is, other than someone who cares about her.

She said she was saddened to see her mother, who did her hair done every week, looking unsteady, with a fringe hanging from her eyes and hair down to her shoulders.

“This nursing home has never allowed us to enter its rooms. We have to stay in a dirty dining room that has been stripped and all the furniture piled up in the corner and in four small piles of assembled tables and staff. that you watch all the time, “he said, adding,” None of that has changed because they allow nursing homes to do their own thing. “

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