Nursing home surveyor conducting a site visit

There is no question about the unprecedented toll the pandemic has taken on skilled nursing facility residents, but a new quality report from a key industry advocate sheds light on the industry’s resilience.

“Nursing Home Quality Improvement During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” released late last week, found that despite the extreme challenges brought by COVID-19, nursing home care providers held steady in a number of quantifiable areas. This included spending more time with residents and continuing to make clinical advancements, according to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

Among the organization’s findings, based on federal data:

  • In more than 110,000 inspections that focused on infection control, 72% conducted from 2020-2022 were deficiency-free.
  • Long-stay residents had 15% fewer infections, 8% fewer urinary tract infections and 12% less catheter use. Short-stay residents, meanwhile, experienced an 8% increase in functional improvements overall.
  • During the first nine months of 2020, the number of nurse staff hours per resident day remained steady or increased slightly. 

The report also highlighted pandemic challenges faced and new data showing the impact of COVID-19 vaccines on outcomes:

  • Nearly 60% of resident deaths occurred during the first seven months of the more than two-year pandemic, before vaccines were available. (The current resident death toll is more than 151,000 as of March 13, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
  • More than 730,000 nursing home residents have recovered from COVID-19.
  • In mid-January 2022, when cases caused by the omicron variant were surging, residents were four times less likely to succumb to the virus when compared to 2020’s pre-vaccine winter surge. By that time, most residents were vaccinated and many had received booster shots.

Regaining ground

Before COVID-19 vaccines were developed and when widespread government restrictions kept residents sequestered in their rooms, nursing homes experienced declines in metrics for certain quality measures, the report also found. These included weight loss, the need for help with daily activities and the ability to move independently among long-stay residents, AHCA/NCAL reported.

The organization said that new data is showing signs of a turnaround in these areas, however.

“Despite these negative impacts due to the virus and government restrictions, these quality measures are already showing improvements during the most recent quarters of available data,” it reported. “[O]ther quality measures stayed the same or improved.”

Care quality in SNFs was on an upward trend in the 10 years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to another report released by AHCA/NCAL last week. The industry is now beginning to regain ground lost during the pandemic and needs additional investment and targeted policy solutions to do so, it said.

“Nursing home caregivers are heroes for their efforts during the pandemic. They should be commended and supported,” it stated in the pandemic care quality report.