SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — At least four of the nine people who have died because of coronavirus are linked to the same nursing home in Washington state.

A local Bay Area expert in Geriatric Nursing is concerned that many nursing homes could be hit hard in this epidemic because they don’t have enough workers and lack sufficient government oversight.

“It’s quite serious because normally the infections only affect the residence and the staff of a nursing home,” Charlene Harrington said. “But in this case, because the coronavirus is so contagious, it could be taken out now and to the community.”

Harrington is a professor emeritus from UCSF’s School of Nursing who specializes in Geriatrics.

She expects this epidemic will expose gaps in the network of care for our most vulnerable population, especially those facility that are for profit which she says makes up 70-percent of the industry.

“Based on the research that I’ve done and other people have done, 75-percent of the nursing homes are understaffed and they are specially short on registered nurses. And registered nurses are crucial,” Harrington said. “They are the ones who would be monitoring infections and doing the oversight monitoring handwashing that sort of thing.”

It’s her belief that there should be one registered nurse for every 20 to 30 residents, and one certified nursing assistant for every seven patients during the day and evening shift.  

She said the industry also needs tougher government oversight but regulations have been weakened during the Trump administration.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) is the federal agency overseeing nursing homes. 

When asked if they would be stepping up inspections in the wake of the epidemic, their administrator responded via an emailed statement:

“For the Trump administration and CMS, patients come first. The health, safety, and welfare of america’s patients – including nursing home residents – and our provider workforce in the face of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is our highest priority.”

She added that under their regulations, every nursing home and healthcare facility must have an infection, prevention and control program and the CMS routinely inspects nursing homes to ensure compliance. 

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