Long before the novel coronavirus made its surprise appearance, the nation’s nursing homes were struggling to obey basic infection prevention protocols designed to halt the spread of viruses and bacteria they battle daily.
Since the beginning of 2017, government health inspectors have cited more nursing homes for failing to ensure that all workers follow those prevention and control rules than for any other type of violation, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of federal records.
In all, 9,372 nursing homes, or 61%, were cited for one or more infection-control deficiencies, the analysis showed. It also found violations were more common at homes with fewer nurses and aides than at facilities with higher staffing levels.
Even among nursing homes crowned with the maximum government rating of five stars for overall quality, 4 in 10 have been cited for an infection-control lapse. Those include the Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, a Seattle suburb, where five people who had lived at the facility have died.
Inspection reports from around the country show many errors are rudimentary, such as workers not washing their hands as they moved to the next patient, or failing to don masks, gloves and gowns when in the rooms of contagious patients in isolation.
“It’s all these little things that are part of infection-control practices that when they are added up can create an environment for an infection outbreak,” said Patricia Hunter, the Washington State Long-Term Care Ombuds, who addresses complaints from residents and families and pushes for improvements in facilities.