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COVID-19 highlighted ignored nursing home issues, new research shows

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

PHOENIX – New research by a University of Arizona professor says the coronavirus has highlighted longstanding issues within nursing homes.

Inadequate staffing, infection control and poor quality of care were among the main problems facing nursing homes before the pandemic hit, according to Tara Sklar, a University of Arizona professor and director of the Health Law and Policy Program at the James E. Rogers College of Law.

“What (COVID-19) did was take something that was bad and made it devastating,” Sklar told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Friday.

Low wages, lack of access to paid sick leave and mandated staff-to-patient ratios are some of the main factors that Sklar says helped turn nursing homes into coronavirus hotspots.

“When you don’t have adequate staffing levels it really hinders your ability to properly get ahead of preventing and controlling an infection from spreading.”

Sklar explained low wages contribute to a higher turnover rate, and in some cases, cause employees to work multiple jobs, increasing the risk of them contracting and spreading the virus to vulnerable patients.

Low-staffing in nursing homes, especially during the pandemic when employees are pressured to also provide emotional and physical support due to family visit restrictions, also affects the overall quality of care.

Sklar added 82% of nursing homes received some kind of citation related to poor infection control four years before the coronavirus pandemic, making it a widespread issue that could be a result of lack of training due to being understaffed.

One way Sklar suggests addressing the problem is by changing the way nursing homes are funded by directing money to where it is needed most, instead of it being based on the number of beds a facility has.

She also recommends increasing state and federal oversight of long-term care facilities.

In Maricopa County, 33% of coronavirus-related deaths occurred in long-term care facilities, according to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit ktar.com/arizonahiring.

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