American Prospect: The Corporatization of Nursing Homes
Maureen Dittmar of Rochester, New Hampshire, was sifting through junk mail one Saturday in early August when she found an envelope obviously sent by a human being. It began: “The content of this letter may be hard to hear … But you deserve to know the truth.” The anonymous author was a staffer at her mother’s nursing home.
Dittmar’s rush of cortisol was familiar. Every day for months, the virus had engulfed another crop of facilities. Residents are elderly, frail, and housed in close quarters; they are sitting ducks for a pandemic. By mid-September, the nationwide death toll from long-term care facilities had reached more than 77,000 residents and staff, 40 percent of the country’s total. For some reason, New Hampshire had only lost a relatively small number, but Dittmar knew better than to believe everything she was told, or assume they were out of the woods.
There wasn’t an outbreak, though; the letter was about staffing. Genesis HealthCare, the 357-facility nursing home chain that ran the Colonial Hill Center and by late May had already seen about 1,500 of its residents die, had slashed payroll so drastically that on many shifts, the primary unit had one nursing assistant responsible for 39 patients. Supervisors helped out on the floor whenever they could, but the last nursing manager who had gone to bat for them had been fired.
New Hampshire had been lucky to avoid the worst of COVID-19, but the minimum staffing requirements it imposed on nursing homes were the most lenient in the Northeast—and now their residents were paying the price. “It has always been a known rule in any health care facility to NEVER mention to family or residents that we are having staffing issues,” the author warned. “We feel that the current restrictions on in-house visitations from the families is allowing a veil of protection for corporate and management. Families are unable to see the full affects [sic] on their loved ones.”