The oft-overlooked post-acute care sector came under the microscope in 2020 as the novel coronavirus took hold. The congregate living setting made nursing homes and assisted-living facilities easy targets for the virus to spread. On top of that, older people with comorbidities have been found to be more vulnerable to the disease.
Throughout the pandemic, about 40% of the deaths from COVID-19 have been in nursing homes, although nursing home residents only represent about 8% of the country’s overall COVID-19 cases. As of Nov. 22, there had been 354,313 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 169,733 suspected cases and 72,642 deaths among nursing home residents, according to CMS.
To combat the spread of the virus in post-acute care settings, the federal government issued guidance and a series of orders on infection control, visitation restrictions and testing in nursing homes and sent funds and point-of-care tests to facilities across the country. Yet providers, struck by lower census numbers and increased costs for staffing, testing and infection control, said these measures weren’t enough.
At the same time, families chose to care for loved ones at home to avoid the perceived dangers of long-term care facilities, aided by loosened restrictions on telehealth in home care settings. A study by healthcare consulting firm Avalere shows that hospital discharges to home health increased 4.6% year-over-year in June, while discharges to skilled-nursing facilities were down 25.4% compared to 2019.
Heading into the winter, COVID-19 cases in nursing homes reached their highest levels yet in the pandemic, leaving leaders worried about how to manage the virus as community spread outside facilities skyrocketed.