May 20, 2020 / 8:11 PM / 5 days ago

U.S. nursing homes plagued by infection control issues pre-COVID-19: report

FILE PHOTO: Medical officials aid a residents from St. Joseph's nursing home to board a bus, after a number of residents tested positive for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Woodbridge, New Jersey, U.S., March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Stefan Jeremiah

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. nursing homes have been plagued with infection control deficiencies even before the coronavirus pandemic turned them into hotspots for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, a government report said on Wednesday.

Eighty-two percent of all nursing homes had an infection prevention and control deficiency cited in one or more years from 2013-2017, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Forty-eight percent had such a deficiency cited in multiple years, according to the report compiled at the request of Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, based on data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

One of the first coronavirus outbreaks in the United States occurred at a nursing home in Washington state. Since then, nursing homes across the nation have reported cases.

More than 30,000 coronavirus deaths are linked to long-term care facilities, according to the health non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation’s website. That is about one-third of the reported U.S. deaths related to the virus.

The GAO said deficiencies in nursing homes included inadequate hand hygiene among staff, or the lack of preventative measures during disease outbreaks such as isolating sick residents and using personal protective equipment.

One New York nursing home, where a respiratory infection sickened 38 residents, did not maintain a complete and accurate list of those infected, did not isolate residents with symptoms or staff members helping infected patients, and continued allowing residents to eat in the common dining room, according to the report.

In another nursing home in California, seven employees had not been screened for tuberculosis, the report said.

States often determined residents were not harmed by the deficiencies and typically did not pursue enforcement measures, it added.

Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Richard Chang

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