Despite the COVID-19 troubles currently facing eldercare facilities, things could have been much worse for some, a Michigan survey suggests. That’s because operators were much better prepared for a pandemic when the coronavirus hit than they were before H1N1 in 2009, say investigators.

Fully 85% of survey respondents this year reported that they had stockpiled supplies before COVID-19. That’s compared with 57% of the respondents to a survey taken two years before the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, according to University of Michigan investigators. Nearly all respondents said they had trained their staff in a pandemic response, up from 42% in 2007. 

The researchers attribute the uptick in preparedness to lessons learned from H1N1, and the threat of a “bird flu” pandemic before that. 

“Although the size and severity of COVID-19 outbreaks in some nursing homes have taken everyone by surprise … in general nursing homes knew exactly what their challenges were going to be,” said senior author and geriatrician Lona Mody, M.D., M.Sc.  “[These were] PPE and staff shortages, and worries that they did not have the capacity to care for COVID patients after their hospital stay.”

Michigan’s nursing homes also appear to be better connected today than they were in 2007. Significantly more report having established communication lines with local hospitals and public health departments. And while half of those surveyed this year expect staff shortages due to COVID-19, more than half said they have a plan to handle such reductions. Most expect to make use of non-clinical staff help, and ask current staff to work additional hours. Two-thirds plan to require overtime work hours.

This hasn’t necessarily lessened anxiety among operators and staff, however. About 42% of those who responded to a question about COVID-19-specific concerns said they feared running short of personal protective equipment. 

Meanwhile, the state has recently begun releasing nursing home COVID-19 data. On Friday, the number of reported infections topped 2,100, not including those who have recovered or died, according to news outlet Bridge. One in three Michigan nursing homes have residents with confirmed cases of COVID-19, it reported.


The University of Michigan study appears in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.