A doctor injecting a senior with a vaccine booster shot
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The presence of a labor union in nursing homes was linked to lower COVID-19 mortality rates among residents and fewer infections among workers, according to a new Health Affairs study.

Researchers said the most surprising thing about the results was the number of deaths that could have been prevented. 

“What has been shocking to me while working on this project is how the debate about protecting essential workers so often ignores labor unions,” lead author Adam Dean, an assistant professor at the George Washington University, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Thursday. 

“People talk about improving workplace safety, but seem to forget, or not know, that labor unions have long been associated with safer working conditions,” he added. 

The investigation used publicly available federal data on resident COVID-19 mortality rates from June 8, 2020 through March 21, 2021. Researchers also used proprietary data on nursing home-level union status from SEIU for the same time period.

Findings showed that during that period, labor unions were associated with 10.8% lower resident COVID-19 mortality rates when compared to non-union nursing homes. They were also associated with a 6.8% lower rate of worker infections. 

The results estimated that industry-wide unionization would have been associated with about 8,000 fewer resident deaths, researchers said. There were more than 75,000 COVID-19 deaths among residents during the study period. 

Researchers concluded that union representation might play an important role in the infection control policies implemented to protect residents and workers. 

“I think the most shocking thing about our results may be this: by fighting for safer workplaces, unions didn’t just protect workers — they may also have saved thousands of nursing home residents’ lives,” Dean said.