Publicly available data regarding coronavirus cases and deaths in nursing homes is “crucial” to stopping the spread of the disease in facilities, a long-term care expert told U.S. senators Thursday.

R. Tamara Konetzka, Ph.D., told the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging that reporting of nursing home data would help uncover best practices and allow federal and state officials to direct resources to providers who need it the most. She added that data would also allow consumers to access information on facilities and make the best health decisions for their families.

“We don’t have, unfortunately, great data yet on exactly what testing strategies have been used and how successful they’ve been. So a lot of what we’re going on is anecdotal evidence but what I can say is that there have been a few key lessons learned,” said Konetzka, a health economics and health services research professor at the University of Chicago. 

Data transparency, along with providing funding and technical assistance and expanding resources for Medicaid patients, were several short-term measures officials could take to address the crisis in nursing homes a University of Chicago research team suggested in a recent analysis. 

Racial disparities

The study, which analyzed the relationship between nursing home quality and COVID-19, also uncovered the role that race plays among COVID-19 cases. It used facility data from 12 states and publicly available lists of long-term care facilities with reported COVID-19 cases or deaths. 

The findings indicated that while there was no meaningful relationship between a nursing home’s Five-Star Rating and the probability of it having at least one COVID-19 case or death, it did show that there’s a “strong and consistent relationship” between race and the disease. 

“Nursing homes with the lowest percent of white residents were more than twice as likely to have cases or deaths as those with the highest percent of white residents,” Konetzka explained. 

She added that nursing homes are often reflections of their local communities, and data shows that facilities in areas that have underserved, nonwhite populations are having the worst outcomes. 

Funding, resources needed

Additional funding and technical assistance resources aimed directly at long-term care facilities would help address those shortcomings. That would mean ensuring providers can conduct regular and rapid testing of all residents and staff, on either a bi-weekly or weekly basis, and have adequate staffing and supplies. 

Long-term measures could include additional regulation and oversight of nursing home facilities with an emphasis on infection control. 

“If scarce resources must be prioritized, the most immediate assistance should be provided to nursing homes that serve primarily non-white residents where the risk of cases and death are the greatest,” she wrote in her testimony.

For additional coverage of the hearing, see sister publication McKnight’s Senior Living.