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Minorities hit hardest when COVID-19 spreads at nursing homes

By HealthDay News   |   Sept. 22, 2020 at 4:46 PM
Researchers say that minority residents of nursing homes and assisted living communities have been hit harder by COVID-19. Photo by zeevveez/Flickr

Minority residents of U.S. nursing homes and assisted living communities have been especially hard hit in the coronavirus pandemic, two University of Rochester studies show.

The first found that nursing homes with higher percentages of racial and ethnic minority residents reported two to four times more new COVID-19 cases and deaths compared to others for the week of May 25.

The number of confirmed new COVID-19 cases each week averaged 1.5 in facilities with the highest proportion of minority residents, compared with 0.4 cases per facility among those with a low proportion.

The findings are based on data reported to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services by nearly 15,600 nursing homes. They suggest that persistent inequalities in facilities with limited resources and poor quality of care are being "exacerbated by the pandemic," study leader Yue Li, professor of public health sciences, said in a university news release.

As of July 30, 362,000 people in U.S. nursing homes were infected with the virus -- about 8% of all cases nationwide. At least 62,000 nursing home residents died of COVID-19, representing 41% of coronavirus deaths nationally.

The second study found that COVID-19 deaths in assisted living communities in seven states were four times higher than in the counties where they're located. The findings are based on data from Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, the Carolinas, New York and Ohio that publicly reported COVID-19 data from nursing homes and residential care settings through May 29.

In those states, the percentage of COVID-19 deaths ranged from 3.32% in North Carolina to 9.26% in Connecticut, while the percentage of COVID-19 deaths in assisted living communities in those states ranged from 12.89% to 31.59% -- although fewer than 10% of assisted living communities reported being affected by the pandemic.

Assisted living communities with higher proportions of Black and Hispanic residents had more COVID-19 cases, but not more deaths.

"As in the nursing home study, we also see that assisted living communities with more minority residents have more cases, and we confirm that communities with a higher proportion of residents with dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and obesity, experienced more COVID-19 cases," said study leader Helena Temkin-Greener, professor of public health sciences.

Unlike nursing homes, assisted living communities are regulated by states, not the federal government, and there are "varying degrees of rigor" in their oversight, she said in the release.

The study noted several factors make assisted living communities "ill-prepared" to deal with a pandemic. They're often short of money, care for increasingly sicker residents, have limited oversight and have staff and personal protective equipment shortages.

The workers providing daily care are often personal care aides rather than certified nursing assistants or registered nurses, and they receive little if any training in the use of PPE, the researchers said.

The findings were published Sept. 21 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on nursing homes and COVID-19.

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