In early March, 35 residents in the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, died due to complications associated with COVID-19. And that facility thus became the first example of how extremely vulnerable nursing home residents are to COVID-19. Since then, around the US, thousands of nursing home residents have died from complications of the virus. US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) nursing homes, while rated high in VA health inspection reports, have not been exempt.
As of April 21, the VA had confirmed > 5,500 coronavirus cases in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. More than 350 veterans have died of COVID-19, according to VA data. The VA calculates its rates by health care system or VA medical center and does not provide separate data for the community living centers (CLCs).
The VA initiated an isolation strategy on March 10 that suspended most new admissions and barred outsiders from all of its 134 nursing homes. The only exception to the rule was when a patient was expected to die soon. The VA has taken other precautions as well, including extra screening and directing patients to use telehealth where possible.
State-run long-term care facilities for veterans have been hard hit across the country. At the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, which is run by the state of Massachusetts, 5 of 11 veterans who died recently tested positive for COVID-19. At the 4 state-run nursing homes in Alabama, as of April 14, 45 people were confirmed positive and 2 residents had died. The largest outbreak was in the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City. Alabama State Rep. Ed Oliver and Commissioner Kent Davis, of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs (ADVA), are looking into how the outbreak started and whether it could have been prevented. “We have reports of lack of hand sanitizers, and those are the things we’re looking at right now,” Rep. Oliver said. The ADVA says residents who test positive are isolated for treatment, and infected employees are prohibited from entering the homes.
States have deployed National Guard troops to facilities following large scale outbreaks and multiple deaths. Pennsylvania deployed 30 National Guard troops to its Southeastern Veterans Center facility in Spring City after at least 10 veterans had died and at least 19 health care workers had tested positive for the virus. The facility is 1 of 6 extended-care facilities run by the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. In New Jersey, 40 National Guard troops, 25 New Jersey Department of Health nurses, and 90 VA nurses were deployed to 2 of its veterans facilities amid worsening outbreaks. At the Paramus facility, 155 residents had tested positive and 39 had died, and at the home in Edison, 86 veterans had tested positive and 25 died; 6 more died at a third state facility.
However, reporting remains inconsistent across many states and facilities. Only on April 19 did the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) order nursing home facilities to inform residents and families about COVID-19 cases inside. This followed similar orders in New Jersey, New York, California, Washington, and other states.
“Nursing homes have been ground zero for COVID-19,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a written statement. “Nursing home reporting to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is a critical component of the go-forward national COVID-19 surveillance system and to efforts to reopen America.”
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