Lower staffing could be a key indicator for how well nursing homes fare during the coronavirus pandemic, new research suggests. 

A University of Chicago analysis found that facilities with at least one COVID-19 case, more nurse aide hours and total training hours had lower odds of experiencing a coronavirus outbreak and fewer deaths. 

As a result, facilities may be able to help contain the number of COVID-19 deaths and increases by increasing nurse aide hours and total nursing hours, investigators suggested. The research, however, also found that resident nursing hours had a higher probability of experiencing cases.

Researchers also lamented that the “strongest predictor of COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes” is how prevalent the disease is in the surrounding community — a similar finding from an earlier study.

“Early analyses indicated that baseline quality was not predictive of nursing home cases, but a more nuanced study of the role of nurse staffing is needed to target resources and better respond to future outbreaks,” researchers Rebecca J. Gorges, Ph.D., and R. Tamara Konetzka, Ph.D., wrote. 

Staffing has also been a top concern for providers and other industry stakeholders during the coronavirus crisis. During a House hearing in late June, one expert witness testified that “poor staffing in long-term care facilities was the gasoline to COVID-19’s match.” A June study found that nursing homes with low staffing had higher rates of COVID-19 deaths and cases among residents.

Full findings were published online Saturday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.