Keeping elderly Americans safe from COVID-19 should be a #1 priority during the pandemic, because they’re at the highest risk of contracting the virus and dying from its virulent course. Among these older people, the most vulnerable are the 1.5 million people who live in nursing homes. But this group- who by definition are too sick to care for themselves- have largely been ignored by government and health officials, forcing local healthcare professionals to take matters into their own hands.
Weeks after the first case of coronavirus in the US was diagnosed on January 21st in Washington state, the outbreak in a Kirkland nursing home claimed 35 lives. Since then, residents of nursing homes in New Jersey, Florida, and California have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
“Everyone is focusing on hospitals, but not nursing home patients,” says Dr. Martin Grossman, a palliative care physician in New York who cares for nursing home residents. “Once we started hearing about the first COVID-19 cases in New York, we called the state to ask if we could suspend visitation, i.e. not allow anyone into our facilities to visit residents. The state said ‘no’ because that would be infringing on patient’s rights. Within a few days, the state got on board and then mandated limiting outside visits. The mortality rate for COVID-19 may be 3-4% overall, but in nursing home patients it’s more likely 20-30%.”