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Watchdog Repeatedly Warned About Nursing Home Infections Before Pandemic Struck

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Infection prevention and control deficiencies were widespread across most of the country’s nursing homes before the coronavirus outbreak, a watchdog group reported Thursday.

More than 82% of the United States’ 15,500 nursing homes were cited for infection prevention and control deficiencies between 2013 and 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote in a blog post Thursday.

GAO’s numbers are based on a pre-pandemic review that the group conducted of Medicare and Medicaid data between the two years.

Roughly 50% of the nation’s nursing homes had consecutive years of citations, GAO’s review found. These deficiencies were a chronic problem. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: New York Admits Knowingly Undercounting Nursing Home Deaths After Quietly Changing Reporting Rules)

More than 40% of nursing homes were cited for infection prevention deficiencies in 2018 and 2019, the group’s review showed. State surveyors classified nearly every deficiency between 2013 and 2017 as “not severe,” resulting in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) taking action in only 1% of the deficiencies, according to the review.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo holds a protective mask to his face as he and Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa arrive for a daily briefing at New York Medical College during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Valhalla, New York, U.S., May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo holds a protective mask to his face as he and Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa arrive for a daily briefing at New York Medical College during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Valhalla, New York, U.S., May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Worse still, about 67% of those deficiencies classified as “not severe” were not addressed whatsoever, while 31% had enforcement actions ordered but not put into effect, the review showed. The GAO’s review comes as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces criticism over a March 25 order requiring nursing homes to admit and re-admit COVID-19 positive patients.

The virus originated in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 before traveling across the globe, killing more than 300,000 people worldwide.

Cuomo partially reversed the March executive order, telling reporters during a May 11 press briefing that patients must test negative for the virus before hospitals can admit them to assisted living facilities.

“This virus uses nursing homes … They are ground zero,” the Democratic governor said.

Nearly half of all coronavirus-related deaths in Europe occurred in nursing homes, according to data the World Health Organization reported in April.

A Daily Caller News Foundation investigation found the state government was knowingly under-counting nursing home deaths.

New York state revealed in April that at least 3,316 people in nursing homes had died of coronavirus at their residences or in hospitals across the state. The virus was first confirmed in Wuhan, China, before spreading across the world, landing in the United States where it had been a factor in more than 80,000 deaths by the end of April.

CMS has not responded to the DCNF’s request for comment about the nature of the deficiencies.

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