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Study: Nursing Home Deaths Due To COVID Show Racial Disparities

Northern Counties Health Care

The coronavirus pandemic has struck nursing homes particularly hard, and a new study from Northern Arizona University shows how race plays a role in mortality rates. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

The authors looked at data from more than 11,000 nursing homes in the U.S. from June to December 2020. For most of that time, nursing homes with higher proportions of Black or Hispanic residents had higher mortality rates due to COVID, compared to nursing homes that were predominately White.

Indrakshi Roy, one of the authors, says, "The racial disparity we saw, that was not something new. But to me I think the surprising part was when we looked at the switch in trend."

The trend began to diminish in autumn and reversed in November. The scientists speculate the shift occurred as the virus moved from large cities to less diverse regions in the rural Midwest.  

Author Amit Kumar says more data are needed, including on testing and vaccination. Data on nursing home mortality weren’t available prior to June and did not include Native Americans. "The COVID pandemic is reopening a Pandora Box of inequalities in our community, and highlighting widespread disparities in health care and social injustice in our society," he says.

Kumar says the findings point to a need for reforms in how federal and state funding is funneled to nursing homes.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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