- The Washington Times - Friday, February 5, 2021

Even before COVID-19 killed more than 136,000 nursing home residents around the country, infection prevention and control was a major problem at community centers operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a just-released report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

About 9,000 military veterans per day in fiscal year 2019 received either short stay — 90 days or less — or long-term care at one of 134 VA-owned living centers. Ensuring the quality of care for veterans in the community living centers has become even more critical since the emergence of the highly contagious coronavirus respiratory disease, the GAO said.

Starting in January 2020, researchers with the GAO reviewed inspection reports from fiscal years 2015 through 2019. Their analysis showed that infection prevention and control deficiencies were the most common type of problems cited. The report said 95% of the living centers were cited at least once for infractions including staff members not regularly using proper hand hygiene or failing to correctly use personal protective equipment.

One of the first major outbreaks of COVID-19 reported in the U.S. occurred in a Washington state nursing home in February 2020. Since then, there has been a rapid increase in the number of coronavirus cases in U.S. nursing homes, GAO officials said.

The analysts said 62% of the VA-owned living centers were cited for the infection prevention and control deficiencies in consecutive years.

“COVID-19 is a new and highly contagious respiratory disease causing severe illness and death, particularly among the elderly,” the GAO said in a letter for Democratic Senators Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Jon Tester of Montana.

“Because of this, this health and safety of the nation’s nursing home residents — who are often in rail health and living in close proximity to one another — has been a concern, in particular for the disabled and elderly veterans living in (community living centers) who are vulnerable to infection.”

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