US: poor staffing in nursing homes was the “gasoline to COVID-19’s match”, witness tells Government hearing – aged care more dangerous to work in than logging or commercial fishing

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Inadequate staffing at nursing homes and long-term care facilities has been blamed for the estimated 54,000 death toll among aged care residents and workers.

The House’s Ways & Means Committee examined the impact of the coronavirus crisis on nursing homes last week.

“Poor staffing in long-term care facilities was the gasoline to COVID-19’s match,” Nicole Howell (pictured), executive director for Ombudsman Services of Contra Costa and Solano Counties, told the hearing.

Ms Howell explained that “within the long-term care industry, direct care workers on average earn only $1 to $2 more per hour over state minimum wage, forcing these dedicated people to work 60 to 80 hours per week at multiple locations.”

“Meaning you can have a caregiver that works at one facility where there are active COVID-19 infections who are forced to work at a second location and may transmit the virus to residents,” she added.

David Grabowski, Ph.D., Harvard professor and healthcare policy expert, said: “Staff are frightened given the lack of COVID testing and PPE, and for good reason,” he said.

“New federal COVID data suggests that over 500 staff nationally have died from COVID – making nursing home caregiver the most dangerous job right now in America, with a higher death rate than logging workers and commercial fisherman.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a blueprint for reopening nursing homes last month, but the guidelines require homes to provide universal testing of residents as a prerequisite before they can even start the process.

With many homes lacking the funding to test residents, most remained closed to visitors.