Deaths Among Medicare Patients in Nursing Homes

by Jan Frazier

Washington, D.C. (Washington Insider Magazine) – The nursing homes saw a 32 percent spike last year in Medicare patient deaths. “A government watchdog reported Tuesday in the most comprehensive look yet at the ravages of COVID-19 among its most vulnerable victims,” who were in nursing home. The report concluded that there were two devastating rises eight months apart.

The report from the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services discovered that nearly 4 in 1 Medicare residents in the nursing homes actually contracted COVID-19 or were likely to have had it during the year of 2020. The report also showed that the deaths increased by 169,291 from 2019, which was before the virus appeared. 

The Harvard health policy professor, David Grabowski, an expert who is nationally known for his knowledge on long-term care, said, “We knew this was going to be bad, but I don’t think even those of us who worked in this area thought it was going to be this bad.”

Grabowski added, “This was not individuals who were going to die anyway. We are talking about a really big number of excess deaths.”

After a devastating event at a nursing home, investigators “use a generally accepted method of estimating excess deaths in a group of people.” Investigators don’t actually look at the death certificates, but rather they compare the deaths of the previous year to the numbers accumulated in the present year. It does not “attribute a cause of death but is seen as a barometer of impact.”

During the year of 2020, the death rates rose higher than those rates in 2019. The report documented the two spikes – which were eight months apart – that was most threatening and then looked for ways to protect “the most vulnerable in future outbreaks of life-threatening illnesses.”

April 2020 saw a total of 81, 484 Medicare residents’ deaths at the nursing homes. And then just eight months later – December 2020 – there were another 72, 299 deaths.

Nancy Harrison, a deputy regional inspector general who worked on the report said, “This is happening long after it was clear that nursing homes were particularly vulnerable. We really have to look at that. Why did they remain so vulnerable?” American investigators are still looking into the cause and effect of the deaths. 

The government’s most comprehensive report was released on Tuesday. It included “statistics for the early part of last year and for the early part of last year.” This was when the coronavirus had just started and the initial surge first began. There are no records to report residents’ deaths from the coronavirus occurring before May 8.

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