The toll that COVID-19 is taking in Granite State nursing homes is more typical than it seems

Monitor staff
Published: 7/1/2020 5:46:49 PM

There’s no denying the tragic toll that COVID-19 is taking on people living in long-term care facilities in New Hampshire, yet the most-cited statistic about the situation makes the state seem more of an outlier than it actually is.

A staggering 80% of the 371 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in New Hampshire so far have occurred in long term care facilities, which includes nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and long-term chronic care hospitals. That is the highest percentage of any state in the nation and almost twice the national average, according to the Kaiser Family Fund, which has what is probably the most trusted national database related to COVID-19.

The obvious implication is that COVID-19 is having a more devastating effect in New Hampshire nursing homes than in similar facilities in other states. That concern is part of the reason the Legislature has approved a bill (HB1246) that would create an independent group to assess the situation of the state’s long-term care facilities.

However, other data indicates that the situation in New Hampshire, while certainly grim, is typical of the region.

The Department of Health and Human Services says that as of June 25, the state had 13,721 beds at facilities registered with the state, and has seen 299 deaths in such facilities. That is a 2.2% death rate.

By comparison, it said, Massachusetts had 5,007 deaths in 58,000 beds, a death rate of 8.3%, New York had 6,427 deaths in 171,000 beds, a dearth rate of 3.8%, and Connecticut 3.080 deaths in 39,000 beds or 7.9%.

All of these rates are higher than in New Hampshire, indicating that the situation in Granite State facilities is more typical than it seems.

DHHS did not release data for Vermont. and Maine’s reported a mere 38 deaths out of 8,750 beds, a much lower rate than in New Hampshire, reflecting how differences exist among states.

None of this is to minimize the pain of deaths in these facilities. Nursing homes all over the country continue to struggle with the toll that COVID-19 is taking among their confined and vulnerable elderly populations.

Further, it should be noted the actual death rate in these facilities is probably higher than these percentages. The number of beds is usually the maximum number of allowable residents, but the number of people actually residing in long-term care facilities is bound to be lower since some beds will not be used, which means the percentage of deaths is higher.

State-to-state comparison is also complicated because not all states report data about the facilities or about deaths from COVID-19 in the same way.

There’s another aspect to the statistic that some 80% of New Hampshire’s deaths have been in long-term care facilities: It seems to say that the state has had unusually low numbers of deaths in the rest of the population, which makes the nursing home situation look comparatively worse.

In the three months that pandemic has been tracked, the state says about 80 people have died from COVID-19 who were not associated with long-term care facilities. New Hampshire sees about 11,000 deaths annually, or about 2,750 in the average three-month period, implying that about 3% of deaths outside of nursing homes over this period were due to COVID-19.

It’s hard to know how that compares to other states, since deaths outside of nursing homes is not a statistic that is usually compiled. Extrapolated over an entire year for New Hampshire, that would put COVID-19 deaths outside nursing homes at 320 which would be the 8th leading cause of death in the state, around the same level as suicide and diabetes.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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