John O’Connor

Some of the early narratives we’ve heard about COVID-19 and nursing homes are not aging well.

Maybe that’s because so much of what we’ve been fed turns out to be ill-informed, self-serving, or just plain wrong. But every now and then, something has come along that delivers clarity and helpful guidance. In case you missed it, that’s exactly what happened last week.

“We can’t protect nursing homes from covid-19 without protecting everyone,” was the headline above an opinion piece appearing in Thursday’s Washington Post. It was co-authored by three of the nation’s most eminent long-term care academics: David C. Grabowski, R. Tamara Konetzka and Vincent Mor.

What they suggest is unlikely to earn them new friends at the White House, or at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  That’s because they take some of the official gobbledygook to task.

The first thing they topple is the comforting but ultimately false notion that “bad” nursing homes are causing the pandemic’s spread.

In fact, their research found that the real culprits are “the population density of the county in which the facility is located, the prevalence of the virus reported in the county and the racial distribution of the nursing home, which are all correlated.”

That’s not to say we can’t learn from exemplary facilities. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that rogue players are not at the root of this evil.

Which begs an obvious question: How then, should we proceed? They propose a coordinated government response that focuses on two key tasks. The first is identifying outbreaks in the surrounding community. The second is preventing staff from bringing the virus into long-term care facilities.

“The only way to protect nursing home residents is to protect everyone who works in them and visits them,” they conclude.

To which, one more word should be added: Amen.

 John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s