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On January 28, 2021 COVID-19 deaths associated with nursing facilities in the United States exceeded 150,000 according to the national tracking site managed by The Atlantic. While institutionalized individuals make up less than 1% of the population, people in institutions account for 36% of all COVID-19 deaths. With a total of 1.5 million nursing facility residents nationally, one-in-ten nursing facility residents have now died from COVID-19.
In some places the devastation is even worse. After the release of a report by its Attorney General, New York State updated it and published reports on the number of COVID-19 deaths in their nursing facilities. They now report that nearly 13,000 nursing facility residents have died from COVID-19 in that state. When the pandemic began, there were approximately 100,000 residents in NYS nursing facilities, so during the last year more than one-in-eight elderly and Disabled residents in NYS nursing facilities have died from COVID-19.
“This is a humanitarian crisis,” said Raquel Bernstein, an ADAPT organizer in New York City. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been deadliest in congregate settings because individuals are not able to socially distance themselves and must share rooms and staff. Had these individuals been living in the community, it is likely most would still be alive today.”
Research published in JAMDA, the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, confirms ADAPT’s argument. Researchers compared the infection and death rates of people in Connecticut nursing facilities to those receiving services in the community and demonstrated that people receiving services in the community were 11 times less likely to get infected with COVID-19 and die than their nursing facility counterparts. Although some may assume that the COVID-19 deaths in nursing facilities and other institutions were unavoidable or exacerbated because people in institutions are “sick” and “frail,” the research told a different story. The researchers found that – after infection – the death rates in the community and in the nursing facilities were comparable which means the nursing facility residents were not, in fact, more “frail” than their peers in the community. In summarizing their findings, the researchers noted that “The main distinction between groups was their living situation. It is likely that living in the community, vs a congregate setting, accounts for the significantly lower infection rates.”
“We have always known that nursing facilities and other institutions were death traps that cut short our lives,” said Dawn Russell, an ADAPT activist from Denver, Colorado. “Based on this research, over 136,000 of these individuals would still be alive today if they just had been living in the community.”
ADAPT is calling on Congress to take action and pass the Disability Integration Act (DIA). DIA is a civil rights bill written by and for people with disabilities and has been sponsored in the Senate by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (NY). DIA mandates that individuals eligible for placement in a nursing facility or other congregate setting be given the option to live in the community where they can lead an independent life.