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Pandemic Presents Growing Problems at Long-Term Care Facilities

The Iowa Health Department says more than 10% of the state's novel coronavirus cases are nursing-home residents or staff members who work in the facilities. (Adobe Stock)
The Iowa Health Department says more than 10% of the state's novel coronavirus cases are nursing-home residents or staff members who work in the facilities. (Adobe Stock)
April 8, 2020

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Nearly nearly half of Iowa's COVID-19 deaths have been nursing-home residents, state health officials say. That's prompted more safety measures at these facilities, and a watchdog group says all states need to do more testing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the new coronavirus has been detected in least 400 of the nation's nursing homes.

Brian Lee, executive director of the group Families For Better Care, said there's a wide variation in how long-term care facilities are protecting this vulnerable age group. He said state health departments need to make testing a priority, both for residents and the people taking care of them.

"You're a health-care worker in a nursing home, you're asymptomatic and you're carrying this COVID-19, you could be a weapon of mass destruction for the residents in that facility," he said.

The lack of available COVID-19 tests in the United States has been well documented. Labs remain overwhelmed, despite capacity buildup. This week, Iowa health officials updated the public on safety measures at nursing homes. Workers are encouraged to screen every resident for key symptoms daily, and facilities are urged to work with local health departments to get tests for people with symptoms.

Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said face masks and eye protection are required for all types of resident care. There's protocol if a staff member shows symptoms.

"We ask them to immediately send home any employee that becomes ill," she said, adding that all staff members must have their temperatures taken before and after shifts.

Lee said at the onset of the pandemic, elected officials promised to make nursing homes a priority. However, he said, he believes that's no longer the case.

"Community spread started to happen, the epicenter shifted to our neighborhoods instead of in the nursing homes -- and that priority for nursing homes kind of moved down," he said.

The care industry now has to plead for protective gear at its facilities, he said.

Iowa cases are online at idph.iowa.gov.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - IA