Monthly AARP report shows Wisconsin COVID nursing home deaths increased five times

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Thursday's booster shot developments come as there is concerning new data regarding people living in nursing homes. The AARP's monthly COVID database shows Wisconsin nursing home deaths increased five times since the previous month's reporting.

Wisconsin is now averaging about 11 nursing home deaths every day. And the AARP's dashboard showed cases among staffers were up, and the percentage of Wisconsin facilities with a staffing shortage is nearly double the national rate.

Jim Flaherty, the associate state director of communications for AARP, said, "If you're not on top of it in making sure these residents have what they need and they have vaccinations, things can get very ugly, very quickly."

The AARP's latest information shows five nursing home deaths for every 10,000 residents. Last month it was just one death. Now there's growing concern as AARP officials reiterated how quickly a COVID outbreak can impact a congregate care setting.

Flaherty said, "Somebody can walk in off the street to visit a loved one and bang, it explodes in a nursing home. Any kind of communal setting, not just a nursing home."

Flaherty says he hopes everyone is paying attention because the vulnerable nursing home population can often be overlooked. So far, 22% of all COVID-related deaths have occurred in nursing homes. But he says some positive news is 62.4% of health care workers are vaccinated and 86.5% of residents are fully vaccinated.

However, another concern is the industry-wide staffing shortage: more than 44% of Wisconsin facilities are short-staffed, nearly double the national rate. Mike Pochowski, the president & CEO of the Wisconsin Assisted Living Association, said, "The caregiver crisis, or the workforce crisis, is probably the worst it's ever been. We're having a very hard time recruiting and retaining staff to work at our facilities all across the state."

And when staffing shortages impact care, nursing home and assisted living facilities throughout the state are affected. Rick Abrams, president & CEO of the WHCA/WiCAL, said, "We have got facilities in the state that are closing themselves to admissions. Because there's not a facility in this state that will accept a new resident unless they can safely care for that individual."

Abrams says hospital patients are starting to back up because they cannot be accepted at the nursing homes they would normally be discharged to. He says at least 53 patients in the La Crosse area have nowhere to go right now.

But there is some optimism as facilities are getting better at addressing and containing outbreaks. Flaherty said, "All we can do is take the precautions necessary to make people as safe as possible. Because we don't know what the next variant is going to hit."

Abrams called the labor crisis in the industry a pandemic of its own, but he did say facilities are getting much better at isolating outbreaks when they do occur.

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