In Washington Post Op-ed, Faculty Highlight the Vulnerability of Nursing Homes

Abraham Verghese and co-author Steven Berk highlight the vulnerability of nursing homes in a new op-ed

A recent Washington Post opinion piece, authored by Abraham Verghese, MD, MACP, Linda R. Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial Professor and Steven Lee Berk, MD, dean of the School of Medicine and executive vice president of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, examines the impact of COVID-19 on the nation’s nursing homes. In the article, “The cruise ships in our backyard,” Verghese and Berk share thoughtful perspective, writing, with many people confined to limited space, “it is tragic but not surprising that nursing homes” are suffering heavy losses due to the pandemic. They note that “repeated, hands-on contact with an aging and often sickly population,” coupled with limited resources, funding and personal to execute infection control and maintain sanitary conditions, qualify these facilities as a hotbed for a contagious pathogen.

Verghese and Berk report that failure to quickly enact safeguards, like visitor restrictions and employee and patient testing, exacerbated COVID-19 infection rates in nursing homes. Furthermore, current guidance for these institutions, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Preparedness Checklist for Nursing Homes and other Long-Term Care Settings, is not viable given the lack of resources. To best address the crisis, the authors call on state and federal governments to immediately “send meaningful assistance in the form of medical reserve personnel and equipment” to allow for “rapid on-site virus testing, monitoring and screening of patients and personnel” at these facilities.

The two physicians say that, while urgent COVID-19-related intervention is critical, the pandemic highlights society’s failure to keep the elderly safe and well-cared for. Although hospital care continues to evolve, these facilities, according to Verghese and Berk, remain “frozen in time,” and today’s environment exposes severe deficiencies. As concluded by the authors, it’s up to us to “give nursing homes the attention that is their due,” to “support and reward the heroic personnel who labor in such settings,” and “ensure they are safe places for our loved ones.”

Read the full Washington Post feature here.