Nursing homes with a non-white resident population of more than 40% have more than three times the rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths than those with fewer non-white residents. 

That’s according to a study published Thursday (Feb. 10) by an influential nursing home research team at the University of Chicago. Investigators Rebecca J. Gorges, Ph.D., and R. Tamara Konetzka, Ph.D., examined large differences in COVID-19 cases and deaths by racial composition in more than 13,000 U.S. nursing homes. 

When results were adjusted for nursing home characteristics and county-level COVID-19 cases (outside of nursing homes), the differences in resident deaths by race were associated with two key factors: nursing home size as measured by certified bed count, and community-level outbreak severity. The overall health status of the residents had little impact, the researchers reported.

The study findings mirror historical racial disparities in long-term care and current pandemic-associated deaths, Konetzka said. 

“Researchers have consistently reported that segregation is present in nursing homes and that nursing homes with higher proportions of non-White residents are associated with worse-quality care,” she said. “Our results suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated this inequity.”

Understanding differences in COVID-19 deaths across nursing homes can be a clue to where policymakers can distribute limited resources equitably, argued Konetzka, who has provided crucial data on U.S. nursing home COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the pandemic.

Although prioritizing vaccinations in nursing homes residents and staff likely will provide outbreak relief, it will be important for policymakers to consider existing inequities to “ensure that the process of vaccine distribution includes particular efforts to reach communities of color,” she concluded.

In related news:

Alzheimer’s Association hosts Feb. 18 webinar on care disparities Called “Creating a Path Forward: Reaching Health Equity and Reducing Health Disparities in Alzheimer’s and Dementia,” the organization’s free program runs from 1 to 3 p.m. ET, and requires registration. The webinar will cover the latest in dementia studies, the importance of early detection and diagnosis, and possible ways to realize equities in care.