Sick man in hospital bed
Credit: Halfdark

Increased COVID-19 case counts at nursing homes nationwide have prevented hospitals from discharging patients into skilled nursing facilities due to a lack of beds. 

The inability of nursing homes to take patients ready to leave hospitals amid the current COVID-19 wave is underscoring skilled nursing’s “essential” role in the care continuum, experts said Monday.

Weekly cases at SNFs rose from about 5,800 to 33,400 between mid-December to early January, according to the latest federal data. Weekly COVID-19 cases among staff also hit a record 57,000 during the week of Jan. 9. 

The rising cases have caused admission shortages and hospitals as a result have been forced to keep patients they would have otherwise released, the Guardian reported Monday. 

“Nursing homes, including the post-acute care parts, have just always been kind of secondary to hospitals, and I think that comes back to bite us. Because it turns out they’re a pretty essential link in the chain,” R. Tamara Konetzka, professor of public health sciences at the University of Chicago, told the news group. 

The problem has put “hospitals in a difficult position,” according to Harvard healthcare policy expert David Grabowski, Ph.D. 

“Things are condition critical today. Individuals can’t find an empty or staffed bed out there,” Grabowski said. 

“That’s a huge problem, because they’re occupying a bed that would otherwise go to a new patient,” he later added. 

Two New York hospitals have created on-site virtual nursing home units to care for post-surgical patients they normally would discharge to nursing homes for rehabilitation. 

In Washington state, local health jurisdictions can determine whether to stop admissions to nursing homes due to as few as one or two staff COVID cases, said Laura Hofmann, RN, Director of Clinical and Nursing Facility Regulatory Services for LeadingAge Washington. 

That has led to 176 of about about 200 certified nursing facilities statewide being closed to new residents either because of COVID or staffing shortages, Hofmann told LeadingAge members during a national coronavirus call Monday.

“We have close to 1,000 people in the hospitals that need to be discharged,” Hofmann said.