AARP has unveiled what it calls an online “dashboard” with Covid data from Iowa nursing homes, showing nearly 43 percent do not have a week’s supply of masks and other personal protective equipment for staff.
The data is based on Iowa nursing home reports to a federal agency. It shows more than 39 percent of Iowa nursing homes had staffing shortages last month. Anthony Carroll of AARP Iowa says the data paints a “horrifying” picture of what’s happening inside Iowa nursing homes.
“What’s a more dangerous job in the country than nursing home staff right now?” Carroll asks. “And frankly, an area that we should be getting it right, but our lack of a plan shows how poorly we are getting this.”
AARP is calling on elected officials to ensure that public funds provided to help nursing homes address the pandemic are being used for testing, PPE and staffing. The AARP dashboard shows more than 700 nursing home staffers tested positive for Covid between August 30 and September 20.
“We have to get better,” Carroll says. “This is the first indicator of how far we have to go.”
Without adequate protective gear and an increase in pay, Carroll says it will continue to be difficult for nursing homes to hire staff in the midst of a public health emergency.
“How is it that we’re almost to October and we’re still having staffing shortages? When you think about it, it’s because these are people who are not being paid well at all,” Carroll says. “They don’t have access to sick leave and they may be working between multiple homes, multiple jobs to make ends meet and then unfortunately unknowingly transmitting the virus from nursing homes to nursing homes.”
Iowa CareGivers executive director Di Findley says the median pay for certified nursing assistants who help nursing home residents with daily tasks is less than $14 an hour.
“We’re asking people to put their lives on the line here, and many of them have literally put their lives on the line for $13.80 an hour,” Findley says. “About 10% of them don’t have health care coverage from any source.”
Findley says many are struggling with child care costs as well.
The state’s coronavirus website shows there currently are Covid outbreaks at 68 Iowa nursing homes. The state declares an outbreak when at least three nursing home residents test positive for Covid. The website shows more than 1700 Iowa nursing home residents currently have Covid.
AARP plans to update its dashboard monthly.