Man holding small dumbbell receiving physical therapy from therapist

In a finding that may counter popular perceptions, post-acute patients transferred to skilled nursing facilities in 2020 had a relatively low overall risk of COVID-19 infection and death, although mortality was high among those who contracted the disease, a new study has found.

During 2020, long-term care residents and staff accounted for 5% of COVID-19 cases and 31% of deaths in the United States, according to investigators. To gauge the effect of the pandemic on post-acute SNF patients alone, they examined data from all new post-acute admissions to a multistate long-term care provider throughout that year. Patients with known SARS-CoV-2 infections at admission were excluded from the study cohort.

Among the more than 45,000 post-acute admissions to 286 facilities, 0.8% contracted the disease and also died. That’s compared with 6.7% of their post-acute peers who died with no known infection, reported Vincent Mor, Ph.D., of Brown University. However, COVID-19 was lethal for many of those who did become infected. These patients had nearly double the mortality rate of those who were not infected.

The factors that posed the greatest risks for contracting COVID-19 among these patients were stays of 30 days or more, COVID-19 surges in the surrounding community and cognitive and functional impairment.

Patients and families may be reluctant to enter SNFs for short-term rehabilitation due to concerns about contracting COVID-19 during the pandemic, despite an existing need, Mor and colleagues wrote. Weighing risks and benefits allows for individualized planning during complex transitions in care, they concluded.

The study was published in the Journal of Post Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

Related articles:

Post-acute care in nursing homes is increasingly out of reach for many, study finds