Black, Latino nursing home COVID-19 deaths linked to overcrowding

The statistics portray “a very sobering demonstration of inequities.”

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Blacks and Latinos in nursing homes in Illinois were “far more likely” to live in overcrowded rooms at understaffed facilities during the height of the pandemic, causing a disproportionate number of preventable deaths. 

On Wednesday, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) presented to lawmakers an analysis of COVID-19-related deaths of nursing home residents between March 2020 and July 2020, the worse days of the pandemic. The report concluded that 60% of virus-related deaths at Medicaid-funded care homes serving Black and Hispanics, were the result of at least 10% of the residents more likely than whites to be living in three- and four-person rooms ABC Chicago 7 reports.

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Andy Allison, HFS’ deputy director for strategic planning and analytics, told lawmakers that the statistics portray “a very sobering demonstration of inequities.”

The HFS report also noted that many nursing home owners “are profiting while relying on low staffing and room crowding.”  The report added that “lower-staffed facilities earn their owners more than better-staffed facilities.” 

“Inadequate staffing and overcrowding undermine basic infection-control procedures,” the report said.  

HFS Director Theresa Eagleson said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed inequities in senior living facilities and the racial disparities in deaths that must be addressed. Per The Associated Press, the HFS is proposing $300 million in new funding for nursing homes that hire more workers or take other steps to benefit residents. Under the plan, nursing homes would pay an additional “bed tax” that the state, in turn, would use to receive a higher federal match through the Medicaid program. The increase would bring in about $300 million more to improve care, according to the report.

The proposals come as the nursing home industry reportedly seeks immunity from lawsuits related to COVID deaths and illness. According to the State-Journal Register, at one point, more than half of all COVID-19 deaths in Illinois involved residents of long-term care homes. There have been almost 78,000 COVID cases and over 10,400 virus-related deaths among individuals at nursing homes since the pandemic began in March 2020, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. In other words, 43 percent of the state’s total death count has been senior living residents. There are 1,000 nursing homes statewide housing 45,000 Medicaid patients.

“We can’t have any more deaths from isolation,” said Carrie Leljedal, spokeswoman for Illinois Caregivers for Compromise. “After the pandemic, we will find more deaths from abuse, neglect and isolation than COVID.” 

Read More: Cuomo aides hide higher deaths in nursing home report: NYT

Meanwhile, lawmakers are calling for the Illinois General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 2137 that would require nursing homes to offer virtual visits for residents during the pandemic, as many continue to suffer from social isolation. 

“There should be no hesitation, we feel, from elected officials,” said AARP associate state director Lori Hendren. “This is a compassionate plan that has been worked through with listening sessions, and we want to make sure the voices and the faces of everyone we love are accessible.”

“In fact, 2020 research shows that the harsh consequences of isolation and loneliness on resident quality of life are alarming,” said Illinois state long-term care ombudsman Kelly Richardson. “There’s a 50 percent increased risk for developing dementia, a 32 percent increase of stroke, and nearly a fourfold increased risk of death among heart failure patients. And it doesn’t have to be this way.”

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