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Study: Nursing home staff turnovers could undermine COVID-19 protections, patient safety

Updated: Mar. 3, 2021 at 7:34 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A new study suggests high turnover rates among nursing home staff could have put more elderly residents at risk for COVID-19 exposure and infections.

The report, published in Health Affairs, analyzed turnover rates in more than 15,000 facilities across the United States.

“Recent concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19 in care facilities have heightened awareness of the possible implications of nursing staff stability for infection control, which may prove a particularly important consideration during the current pandemic and in future public health emergencies,” the study stated.

Meanwhile, AARP’s COVID dashboard reports over 20% of nursing home facilities in South Carolina are struggling with staffing shortages.

It’s an issue that has burdened nursing homes for years, but experts say the pandemic has highlighted the problem and its potential impacts on resident care and protection.

“Even before the pandemic, our state had significant healthcare workforce shortages, and so if you can imagine, the stress of working in a direct care role over the past year, not only the stress related to the potential of catching the virus but of caring for people who are sick or protecting them from the virus,” SC Institute of Medicine and Public Health Executive Director Maya Pack said.

The Health Affairs study said it’s important policy makers work to lower turnover rates within nursing homes to help facilities be better positioned to cover absences because of sickness, to make sure staff members are more familiar with infection control protocols, and to limit the spread of infectious disease.

“If COVID did get into the nursing homes…then you have one nurse seeing multiple residents and this dramatically increases the spread of infection,” AARP’s Joe Meyers said.

However, many experts see the COVID-19 vaccines as a turning point in the fight against the pandemic and a saving grace in this staffing shortage for nursing homes.

“The number one solution is to end the virus and make nursing homes and assisted living facilities a safe living environment and working environment once again,” Pack said.

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