Nursing homes, coronavirus and the future of elder care

Nursing homes, coronavirus and the future of elder care

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At least 54,000 residents and workers at nursing homes and other elder-care facilities have died of COVID-19 in the United States, according to data compiled by the New York Times in late June. The U.S. has more deaths connected to nursing homes than any country other than Brazil has in total. 

COVID-19 has proved to be especially dangerous for the elderly. People over 65 represent more than three-quarters of America’s nearly 131,000 coronavirus deaths. The age of nursing home residents, combined with the ease with which the virus spreads in communal spaces, has led to devastating outbreaks. Some facilities have been connected to more than 70 deaths. 

Across the U.S., there are about 1.4 million people living in nursing homes. Though their residents make up less than 1 percent of the country’s population, nursing homes account for more than 40 percent of America’s COVID-19 deaths. The fatality rate for nursing home residents who contract the virus is more than three times the national average, according to the New York Times. 

To some experts, the coronavirus has highlighted flaws in the U.S. nursing home system that can only be fixed by radically changing the way the country cares for the elderly. Critics argue that nursing homes were vulnerable to the virus not just because they house older people in tight quarters, but also because of long-standing problems like limited resources, poor government support, underpaid staff, lack of oversight and financial structures that incentivize substandard care. The size of the country’s older population is expected to nearly double by 2050, which could further strain the already strained nursing home system.

A better plan, some argue, would be a major increase in at-home care for seniors supported by government funds, new technology and community members. Some studies suggest that at-home care is cheaper and leads to better health outcomes. Shifting the majority of elder care to the home would allow nursing homes to focus on supporting people with intensive health needs, experts say. 

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