The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare many societal inequalities and injustices as it has left devastation and death in its wake. Minority communities have felt its brunt to a far greater extent than many other groups.
One community that has long been ignored transcends ethnic, racial and socioeconomic lines. It’s a community that’s been devastated by the pandemic. It’s a community that has put a harsh spotlight on a major health inequality in America. It’s the community of older American adults in nursing homes and long-term-care facilities.
On June 16, a headline in the Wall Street Journal read: Coronavirus Deaths In U.S. Nursing, Long-Term-Care Facilities Top 50,000. The story went on to say that it marked a grim milestone in the pandemic that is taking an outsize toll, including 250,000 most recently reported infection cases, on the oldest and most vulnerable people and staffers. It also highlighted a John Hopkins University study which revealed that facilities which house and care for seniors are currently linked to more than 40% of pandemic deaths in the U.S.
Here in Long Beach, a long-term-care nursing facility on Broadway became one of the first epicenters of the virus in April when it reported that 44 of its residents and 27 of its staff were infected in its 95-bed center. Adding to this dire situation is that of the 33 deaths reported at that time, more than 80% or 27 lost souls, occurred in one of our very own Long Beach care facilities.
Horror stories from across our nation abound; the Brooklyn nursing home with 55 coronavirus deaths, the bodies in makeshift morgues discovered by New Jersey authorities, or the quarter of the residents in a Richmond, Va., nursing facility succumbing to the virus.
These lost souls are not just abstract numbers. They were brothers and sisters, husbands, wives, and grandparents who have spent their lives working and toiling to make this country what it is today. They were older adults who ended up being warehoused, forsaken and forgotten.
The fact that we have relegated our most at-risk elderly fellow citizens to a facility that many of them would never choose in the first place is a tragedy. Many of these nursing homes and long-term-care facilities have a long history of never providing anything approaching excellent care and many have a history, based upon formal complaints to state authorities, of consistently providing substandard care.
The untenable situation in these facilities has long been of concern to its residents and their families but now these inadequacies, long hidden in the shadows, are making their presence known from coast to coast because of the Covid-19 epidemic.
We all know that generally speaking nursing homes are considered a last resort for the 1.3 million people who are housed there nationally. The majority of residents are our most frail and disadvantaged older adults who require a level of care they can’t provide for themselves. Wether it’s because of lack of resources or a family that can’t provide the care they so desperately need, they find themselves with no choice but to be placed in a nursing home.
These homes and their residents for the most part have been disregarded and trivialized. But with the coronavirus raging across the nation, and taking a disproportionate toll on nursing homes, we can no longer ignore this industry. It is an industry in which 70% of facilities are for-profit businesses that are paid for in large part via Medicaid tax dollars at a cost of more than $41 billion a year.
These facilities for so long have remained out of the public view and scrutiny. It is no understatement to say that many of the nation's almost 16,000 nursing homes were and still are some of the most dangerous places to be.
FULL SPEED AHEAD will be delving into the current situation in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, the key challenges that must be addressed to improve their situation, and ways in which to address these egregious conditions. It is high time that these facilities are no longer permitted to provide substandard care and remain a danger to both their staff and their clients.
Allan Goldstein is a retirement counselor in Long Beach.