Nursing homes with low staffing and quality scores have higher rates of COVID-19 deaths and cases among residents, argue researchers in a new study published Thursday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Facilities with more registered nurses on duty had 22% fewer confirmed coronavirus cases when compared to those with lower RN staffing levels, a University of Rochester research team found. 

“Our findings of the strong negative association between RN staffing and the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes are consistent with research that has demonstrated that increased nursing levels are key to an institution’s ability to respond to outbreaks of emerging infections,” Yue Li, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Public Health Sciences and lead author of the study, said in a release. 

Li’s team used data from Connecticut nursing homes for the study. Other prominent studies that have found that star ratings are not tied to COVID-19 deaths used national data for analysis. Those studies have also linked race as a key factor in facility outbreaks.

The Li study also found that nursing homes that had 4- or 5-star ratings had 13% fewer confirmed cases than facilities with 1- , 2- or 3-star ratings. 

In addition, facilities with a higher concentration of Medicaid residents had 16% more confirmed cases than their counterparts. Homes with more minorities had 15% more confirmed cases. 

“In nursing homes, quality and staffing are important factors, and there already exists system-wide disparities in which facilities with lower resources and higher concentrations of socio-economically disadvantaged residents have poorer health outcomes,” Li said. “These same institutional disparities are now playing out during the coronavirus pandemic.”