Coronavirus: Most nursing homes had infection control deficiencies before pandemic, report says

Coronavirus: Most nursing homes had infection control deficiencies before pandemic, report says
FILE PHOTO: Residents at some nursing homes are not able to visit with family members because of coronavirus, but one son is still visiting his father every day with the help of a window and some technology.

WASHINGTON — Most nursing homes weren’t doing enough to protect patients from spreading infections before the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that more than 13,000 nursing had deficiencies with infection control from 2013 to 2017.

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That accounted for 82 percent of the nursing homes reviewed.

"This did seem to be both widespread and persistent across the time period we looked at,” said John Dicken, Director for Health Care Issues at GAO. "There were examples of staff who may have been doing direct care with residents but had not been doing effective handwashing in between residents. There was staff that were coughing or had fevers and were providing direct care."

In other cases, the investigation found that some facilities weren’t doing enough to isolate infectious patients.

“There were some residents that may have been mixed including some that were exposed or had some kind of infection,” Dicken said. "One with a staph infection that was sharing bathrooms with other residents.”

The report said Congress wanted this investigation done because of the threat to nursing home patients from COVID-19.

"These have been a long-term issue and so the current environment really reinforces the need to focus on these types of infection control measures,” Dicken said.

There is ongoing work happening to look at how nursing homes are handling infections during the pandemic and how the federal government is enforcing regulations regarding infection control at the facilities.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said:

“CMS is committed to protecting the health and safety of our nation’s seniors living in nursing homes. As the GAO described, insufficient infection prevention and control is frequently cited as a deficiency in long term care facilities. CMS has used this data to strengthen federal infection control and prevention regulations and policies. Both before and during the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, CMS has provided nursing homes with resources to assist their efforts at combating infectious disease. CMS will continue to use every tool at our disposal to ensure nursing home residents are protected.”