Coronavirus cases in Kentucky and across the nation are spiking at alarming rates, and new data from AARP shows nationwide nursing home infections are no longer declining.
In fact, a report from The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living shows that new weekly COVID cases in nursing homes has reached a record number this month.
"During the first week of November, nearly half (47%) of new COVID cases in nursing homes were from Midwest states with major spikes in community spread in the upper parts of the region. As a result, the Midwest region saw a 200% increase in weekly COVID cases in nursing homes since mid-September," says the AHCA/NCAL.
Advocates are calling for increased transparency, staffing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing.
So far, 1,095 long-term care facility residents and staff in the Commonwealth have died, totaling more than 65% of all COVID-19 related deaths in the state.
Sherry Culp, long-term care ombudsman for the Nursing Ombudsman Agency of the Bluegrass, said facilities should start communicating now about how they'll help residents and families stay connected and safe during the holidays.
"So facilities need to be planning now for increased phone calls; increased video chats," Culp suggested. "They need to be preparing if someone wants to drop a holiday gift off to their mother."
Culp noted over the past four weeks, resident and staff cases have begun to tick upward.
Yet AARP's findings show in every state, nursing homes are experiencing shortages of direct-care workers and PPE, particularly N95 masks, gowns, gloves and eye protection.Nationwide, more than 91,000 residents and staff have died from COVID-19.
She added community spread affects nursing-home residents, and stressed adhering to COVID-19 guidelines such as mask wearing and social distancing can make a difference, especially for nursing home staff at risk of transmitting the virus as they go to and from work.
"Those are the kinds of things that I think there needs to be a lot of attention on right now," Culp urged. "It's what every Kentuckian can do to help preserve the lives of our nursing-home residents."
Eric Evans, associate state director of advocacy and outreach for AARP Kentucky, said there are actions federal and state lawmakers can take to prevent more deaths this winter, including providing more funding for regular testing, as well as increased oversight of facilities to ensure that discharges, transfers and in-person visitation follow safety guidelines.
"AARP urges elected officials to take action, combat this national tragedy, provide funding for nursing homes, PPE, staffing," Evans emphasized. "To really stop this, we really think that Congress should act now."Evans also pointed out since the start of the pandemic, sparse data has been available on the scope of the crisis in nursing homes.
He said AARP's COVID-19 Dashboard will be updated monthly to provide four-week snapshots of the virus' infiltration into long-term care facilities across the country.