An Associated Press analysis of 15,000 nursing homes across the United States found that the Covid-19 pandemic may have resulted in as many as 40,000 excess deaths—that is, premature deaths from causes other than Covid-19. Experts suggested to the AP that nursing home residents may have died of neglect as overworked staffers tended to residents suffering from the disease.
“Nursing home watchdogs are being flooded with reports of residents kept in soiled diapers so long their skin peeled off,” according to the AP, “left with bedsores that cut to the bone, and allowed to wither away in starvation or thirst.”
As one expert described, the data suggests that excess deaths were more prevalent in nursing homes where Covid-10 spread further: facilities “where at least 3 in 10 residents had the virus” recorded excess death rates “double what would be expected without a pandemic,” adding credence to the idea that as staffers cared for Covid-19 victims, other residents were left behind. Understaffing has long been a problem at nursing homes, but the pandemic underscored it with deadly severity. “In 20 states where virus cases are now surging,” according to the report, “federal data shows nearly 1 in 4 nursing homes report staff shortages.”
One victim of “failure to thrive” described by the AP was a man named Donald Wallace, who avoided Covid-19 infection only to suffer malnourishment and dehydration, losing “98 pounds” as an apparent urinary infection went untreated, and possibly choking on food. His son told the AP, “He couldn’t even hold his head up straight because he had gotten so weak… They abandoned him.”
Another victim described by the AP was Carolyn Best, an 83-year-old resident of Gurwin Jewish Nursing Home on Long Island. According to her daughter, Best was also spared from catching Covid-19, but nonetheless appeared to be suffering during their FaceTime calls. She eventually died of dehydration “because the staff was so consumed with caring for COVID-19 patients that no one made sure she was drinking.”
A trade organization representing nursing homes reportedly told the AP that the apparent surge of excess deaths during the pandemic is “speculation.” A spokesperson said that “There have been some really sad and disturbing stories” emerging from nursing homes, but they do not reflect a systemic problem. At the same time, a watchdog overseeing nursing homes in Connecticut told the AP that “with dentists shut out, ill-fitting dentures went unfixed, a factor in mounting accounts of malnutrition, and with podiatrists gone, toenails went untrimmed, posing the possibility of painful conditions in diabetes patients.” Rules barring family and friends from visiting nursing home residents, meanwhile, deprived nursing home staffers of “critical help” with resident care.
The AP’s heartbreaking report on apparent failure-to-thrive deaths at nursing homes during the Covid-19 pandemic is available here.