As a geropsychologist and a New Yorker, I’ve been relieved to see the after-the-fact uncovering of the true number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes in New York last year.
The New York data revelation is not really a revelation to anyone who worked in long-term care in New York City last spring. Or for an ambulance company. Or in a hospital admitting a crush of residents from nursing homes. This big secret was not so secret and it wasn’t limited to New York.
It was already clear from the national response last spring to the outbreak at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, WA, that any facility reporting a large number of resident deaths would be made the “fall guy” for systemic failings and the impact of a novel coronavirus. While there were certainly facilities where infection control lapses and inadequate staffing ratioscontributed to the number of cases, the largest factor affecting the rate of infection in nursing homes was community prevalence.
The mainstream consumer media was filled with one-sided articles about COVID-19 in nursing homes. Reading between the lines of these stories, it was clear that the desire to avoid publicity made it harder for facilities to seek desperately needed help.
For almost a year, the New York Times has posted a record of nursing homes in order of the number of facility deaths. It’s been inaccurate because of the way the numbers were reported in New York and likely in other states, with more truthful nursing homes at the shameful top of the list.
Throughout the country, there’s been a huge disincentive to report what was actually going on, especially early in the pandemic.
I’d like to focus on the emotional ramifications of this.