Shortage of nursing home staff fueled COVID-19 outbreaks, consumer group says

CBS News
Megan Cerullo

The nursing home industry's long-standing staffing problem was made even worse by the pandemic, and consequently may have contributed to its struggle to keep residents safe from COVID-19, according to a recent report.

More than 3,000 nursing homes in the U.S. — roughy a fifth of facilities — were understaffed during the month of December, U.S. Public Interest Research Group said in a report. These long-term care facilities experienced shortages of nursing aides, doctors and other health care staff with direct patient contact at a time when they were needed most, the consumer watchdog found.

Nursing home workers have notoriously taxing jobs, while pay is low. Many nursing home workers, already stretched thin, contracted COVID-19 themselves, forcing them to leave the facilities and self-isolate for a period of time. These absences fueled more outbreaks, as remaining staff members interacted with greater numbers of residents at once.

Nurse shortage affected 18.5% of all nursing homes in December, US PIRG found. Higher staffing levels, in contrast, were found to prevent deaths. Nursing home residents represent about 1% of the the U.S. population but have accounted for 2% of all COVID-19 infections, and 25% of deaths from the virus.