COVID-19 has killed nearly 136,000 nursing home residents and over 2,000 of their caregivers. Even though nursing home residents make up less than 1% of the US population, they accounted for 20% of the COVID-19 related deaths in the United States. Yet while the pandemic exposed the issue to the public, infection control is a problem older than the pandemic; before COVID-19, 380,000 nursing home residents died annually from various infections. 40% of nursing homes were cited for poor infection control practices. Common infections include urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, and influenza.
Nurses are key to infection control, but the profession is shrinking by the second. 89% of healthcare organizations are experiencing a staffing shortage. 2 years into the pandemic, and US nurses feel stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Since January 2020, 15% of the total nursing home workforce has fled for greener pastures. It’s no wonder so many are leaving. The toxic combination of high stress and low pay are intense push factors.
Nurses’ departures leave residents vulnerable. Fewer workers mean higher workloads, and high stress levels can cause health workers to lapse on simple health practices like washing hands and cleaning surfaces. In 2021, shared nursing home equipment was disinfected between residents only 42% of the time. PPE shortages were common, especially during the early days of the pandemic. Few healthcare workers felt safe reusing PPE even when directed to by official sources. Finding solutions takes hands-on intervention, not written directives or fines from on high.