Will vaccine improve safety in close-quartered nursing homes?

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Posted at 4:29 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 20:33:12-05

When loved ones in long-term care facilities and nursing homes contract COVID-19, the policy is to help them ride it out in-house, instead of going to the hospital. Patients are only taken to the hospital if absolutely necessary. Has that policy put lives at risk, and if so will a vaccine help improve safety?

According to the Associated Press, more than 110,000 deaths from COVID-19 have happened in nursing homes across the country. With the United States hitting 305,000 deaths total on Wednesday, those patients make up more than one third of all COVID-19 deaths in the country.

But Greg Kesterman, Hamilton County health commissioner, says the nursing homes policy to keep COVID-19 infected patients in-house isn't what's contributing to the deaths. If patients get too sick to be cared for in the facility in which they live, they are ultimately taken to the hospital.

"Nursing homes are definitely a hard-hit community with regards to COVID-19 because they are serving elderly individuals, often with other health conditions, and COVID has just been very hard for that older demographic," said Kesterman.

Pete Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association, said the protocol is in place to keep nursing home populations from contributing to overflowing and overtaxed hospitals. The Ohio Health Care Association represents more than 1,000 assisted-living and skilled-care facilities in Ohio.

"It's really an allocation of healthcare resources issue," said Van Runkle. "If you don't need to be in a hospital, you shouldn't go and they don't want you to go."

State and hospital leaders across the state have been warning for weeks that hospitals are facing a staffing shortage as community spread continues to surge. Van Runkle said that leaves little room for changing the nursing homes' policies now.

"Many staff members are getting sick," he said. "They contracted the virus outside the facility, but, nevertheless, they can't work so long as they're infectious."

In eight counties surrounding the Greater Cincinnati region, 3,021 long-term care facility staff members have tested positive for the virus since April:

  • Adams County: 45 staff members
  • Brown County: 90 staff members
  • Butler County: 520 staff members
  • Warren County: 319 staff members
  • Clermont County: 196 staff members
  • Hamilton County: 1,732 staff members
  • Highland County: 93 staff members

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are next on the list for the COVID-19 vaccine, which Governor Mike DeWine said should begin shipping to those facilities beginning Friday.