New Study Examines COVID-19 in Cook County Nursing Homes - Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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New Study Examines COVID-19 in Cook County Nursing Homes

August 6, 2021

A new study looking at factors that contributed to increased COVID-19 infection and deaths among older adults in nursing home facilities found that facilities with poor Medicare quality ratings were associated with increased COVID-19 cases and deaths. The study was led by founding Health & Medicine Board member Michael Gelder.

It is well known that COVID-19 has had a disastrous effect on older adults, particularly those living in skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). In addition, there has been widespread coverage regarding racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths, with Black and Brown communities being hit the hardest. This disparity held true in SNFs as well. Studies such as Gelder’s are crucial to help older adults and their families make informed decisions about the risks associated with nursing homes.

In the first phase of their research, Gelder and his team focused their analysis on SNFs in Cook County, IL. They found that relatively poor facility quality ratings and high levels of staff COVID-19 cases were associated with increased resident COVID-19 cases and deaths. In addition, they found that, compared to nonprofit facilities, for-profit SNFs were larger, lower quality, and had higher resident-to-staff ratios, all of which were associated with a higher number of COVID cases.

They also found that SNFs with a higher percentage of white residents had fewer cases, and SNFs in neighborhoods with lower social vulnerability were likely to have more white residents, and therefore, fewer cases and deaths. Social vulnerability refers to the degree of external stressors, such as low socioeconomic status, in a community.

Gelder was Senior Health Policy Advisor to Gov. Pat Quinn and served as Deputy Director for the Illinois Department on Aging. He is currently Adjunct Research Assistant Professor at UIC and adjunct faculty at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The manuscript was authored by a team of faculty from University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Public Health and Department of Disability and Human Development. Sage J. Kim, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Public Health and Susan Hughes, PhD, Director of the University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Research on Health and Aging in the Institute for Health Research and Policy, are the principal authors. They were assisted by Andrew DeMott, MPH, Coordinator of the Center for Research on Health and Aging and Meredith Hollender, MPP, a paid intern at Health and Medicine Policy Research Group. Michael Gelder is the principal investigator for this ongoing comparative research study of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality in older adults throughout Illinois based on residential status in nursing homes vs. the community.