Geography Is Not Destiny: Protecting Nursing Home Residents from the Next Pandemic

Mary Madison, RN, RAC-CT, CDP 
Clinical Consultant – Briggs Healthcare

This 51-page report with the same title as this blog, was released on February 18, 2021.  I offer these excerpted statements from the CMA Press Release as well as the Executive Summary of the report:

The report “explores facilities’ responses to the coronavirus crisis and examines how residents’ deaths were not “inevitable”, as some have claimed. The report contends that COVID-19 exploited and exacerbated long-standing issues, such as staffing, infection control, and management problems, that existed for decades in the long-term care industry. 

As our nation’s nursing homes continue to reel from the unprecedented toll that COVID-19 has taken, questions remain about how many deaths could have been avoided, and – crucially – what can be done to save lives moving forward to prevent a similar catastrophe in the future. Nationwide, 36% of COVID-related deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities (and in some states that figure jumps to over 60%). These statistics are even more shocking considering that less than 1% of the nation’s population live in these facilities.”

This is a sobering, must-read report for all of us.  There’s a lot of data to be studied and recommendations to be considered and acted upon.  The LTC industry must study, reflect and be proactive to avoid this from happening again – wherever possible. 

The report:

• Analyzes and challenges the assertion that “Geography is Destiny” as the prevailing theory of nursing home transmission (concluding “a facility’s location does not equate to a facility’s fate”) • Identifies lessons learned for nursing homes 
• Provides specific policy recommendations for change

  • Be sure to look at the charts that speak to CMS Star Rating components on pages 7 through 9.
  • Check out CMA’s comments and recommendations for staffing, training, wages, patient to staff ratios, state legislative actions, etc. on pages 15 through 18.
  • Section 3 – Place begins on page 26 and extends through page 31. This section speaks to room size, resident per room, visitation, activity coordination, etc.

Report Conclusion

“We began this report by asking: How many deaths could have been avoided, and how many lives can be saved moving forward? While we cannot identify precise numbers to answer these questions, we can identify specific lessons about what went wrong within our nation’s nursing homes as they faced the most existential health threat they have encountered in modern times.

The remedies are clear and actionable. Sweeping reforms are needed, swirling around issues of ownership, racial and ethnic disparities, and coordination between levels of government, among others. At the same time, more fundamental improvements – sometimes just below the surface – must be enacted to fill the cracks in the foundation upon which our nursing home industry stands. These include the need to define federal minimum nurse staffing levels, to increase wages for direct care workers, to establish “essential caregivers” for residents, and to strengthen enforcement of infection deficiencies, among others.

The policy recommendations offered in this report are an important start. Broad adaptation of the recommendations would lead to better care, better outcomes, and improved well-being for millions of vulnerable older Americans. But there are further lessons to be learned, and still much work to be done. It is up to us – those who have borne witness to the price of inaction – to insist on necessary change. The cost of not doing so will certainly be counted in lives … the choice is ours.” [Bolding added by me.]

The Center for Medicare Advocacy is a national, non-profit law organization that works to advance access to comprehensive Medicare coverages, heath equity, and quality health care for older people and people with disabilities. The Center provides legal assistance, education, analysis, and advocacy with a focus on concerns of people with longer-term and chronic conditions. The organization’s systemic positions and actions are based on the experiences of the real people we hear from every day.