Understaffing and Poor Safety Standards Allowed Coronavirus to Spread Quickly Through Nursing Homes: Report

A host of preventable errors including understaffing and poor hygiene helped by a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) reportedly played a significant role in U.S. nursing homes becoming hotbeds for the spread of Covid-19.

An analysis from nonprofit news outlet ProPublica published Friday utilizes the findings of inspectors from the government's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in suggesting that inadequate safety measures at the facilities could be "at the root of the widespread outbreaks" in nursing homes.

Staff being forced to care for residents without proper supplies of PPE was one factor that allowed the virus to easily spread at the facilities, the analysis noted. Others included failing to maintain social distancing among residents and understaffed workers reacting too slowly to residents who began exhibiting signs of infection.

Inspectors said that Enumclaw Health and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home located about 50 miles outside of Seattle, was one of several where conditions had put residents in harm's way. By April 2, 38 residents and 10 staff members at the facility had tested positive for the virus, with 5 resident deaths.

"Based on observation, interviews and record reviews the facility failed to take appropriate actions related to a COVID-19 outbreak," the inspectors wrote. "These failed practices may have contributed to multiple residents and staff contracting COVID-19."

Elderly Nursing Home Resident and Caregiver
Elderly nursing home residents are particularly vulnerable to the ravages of Covid-19, according to health experts. Daisy-Daisy/Getty

Residents at the facility who became sick in mid-March were moved to a different area but staff left their roommates in the same rooms without any precautions because "they were told by corporate not to start the roommate on isolation, and continue with surveillance to conserve PPE." A majority of the roommates later came became ill with Covid-19 themselves.

Newsweek reached out the Enumclaw Health and Rehabilitation Center for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication. The nursing home told ProPublica that "the safety and wellbeing of our residents remains our top priority."

The report notes eight other facilities with similar violations, including the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington—the early epicenter of the U.S. outbreak and the facility associated with at least 129 cases and 37 deaths.

Over 10,000 of the country's approximately 1.3 million nursing home residents have died due to Covid-19, according to The Kaiser Family Foundation. Some experts believe the true number could be far higher due to underreporting and inadequate testing.

Poor safety standards at nursing homes are not limited to those facilities cited in the ProPublica report. Staff at several Chicago-area nursing homes recently told WBEZ that lack of PPE, inadequate infection control measures and understaffing had made working conditions difficult and dangerous while helping allow the virus to spread.

"We were told to wear the same gowns in and out of most of the rooms," one worker told the outlet. "We knew we were spreading it from patient to patient."

"This is a bloodbath. I feel like my heart is breaking," said another.