While 2020 was a terrible year for most everyone involved, few can match the horrible experience that came to nursing homes. In the United States, nursing home residents and staff account for 36% of coronavirus deaths. In certain states, that number is above 50%. That is hundreds of thousands of senior citizens and their caretakers who have been lost forever.
How did it get this bad? Senior citizens and those with chronic conditions were uniquely vulnerable to the virus from the outset, but certain actions taken by long term care facilities also worsened the outcome. Healthy residents were often forced to share rooms with those who had tested positive for coronavirus. Residents were prescribed ineffective antibiotics to ward off a viral infection.
Banning visits from family failed to protect residents because nursing home staff became vectors for disease transmission. Thanks to these missteps in handling the outbreak, 1 in 2 Americans now feel more negatively towards nursing homes than they did pre-pandemic.
That said, the nursing home crisis goes far beyond public relations. Between falling occupancy due to deaths and a pause on new residents, nursing home revenue is falling at the same time costs are rising. Especially early on in the pandemic, PPE and testing were major cost drivers for nursing homes across the nation. Thanks to this double financial whammy, 65% long term care facilities are operating at a loss while 25% more have a margin of under 3%. If their situation is not addressed in the near term, many nursing homes will be forced to close their doors, only making the tragedy worse.
Despite the unpopularity of nursing homes, they are an essential service for many Americans. 90% of people hope they never need a nursing home, but 70% of seniors end up needing one at some point in their lives regardless. As the US population ages, this statistic will grow to affect more and more people.
Amid the pandemic, 3 in 4 adults have changed how they think about their future. 40% are now more willing to save for long term care while 33.3% have already taken action to financially prepare for that outcome. Americans are also more aware of what the threat of a new illness may be to both themselves and their loved ones. Supply of nursing homes may shrink in the short run, but demand is only going to rise.
What can the remaining nursing homes do to repair the dismal state of their industry? The most important thing that needs to change is infection control. Frequent, visible cleaning shows residents and their families a facility is safe. It no longer makes sense to confine disinfection to the night shift. Nursing homes can consult professional cleaning companies, they can introduce consistent and effective cleaning protocols, and simplifying the process with one-step multi-surface cleaner and disinfectant can make the process as straightforward as possible.
These policies need to be long term. Stretching beyond the current pandemic means nursing homes can tackle the other serious diseases that spread within their facility. At this time, nursing home residents are 40% more likely to develop antibiotic-resistant UTIs, 2000% more likely to get sepsis, and 4200% more likely to catch MRSA carriers. Implementing the cleaning policies discussed above mean nursing homes can reduce their healthcare-associated infections by as much as 85%.
The current problems of nursing homes are immense, but there is a path ahead for these important institutions. To clean up their image, they need to clean up their facilities. Infection control is damage control, and that will be true long after the pandemic has ended.