81% of Minnesota COVID-19 Deaths Are from Nursing Homes, but Facilities Still Allowed to Admit Positive Patients

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announces new guidelines today for restaurants, bars, salons and b
Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP, Pool

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, continues to allow nursing homes to admit COVID-19 positive patients even though nursing home residents make up 81 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the state.

No state has a higher percentage of COVID-19 deaths from nursing home residents than Minnesota.

The Star-Tribune reported the details on Thursday:

State health officials and long-term care industry representatives have defended the practice of discharging some COVID-19 patients to nursing homes, saying it is part of a broader strategy to conserve critical hospital beds during the pandemic. Long-term care facilities can provide treatment for coronavirus patients who still need care, but have stabilized enough that they no longer require hospitalization, officials said.

So far, 11 facilities statewide have been designated as “COVID support sites,” with separate units or wings to handle coronavirus patients. These specialty sites have gone through a vetting process by the state to ensure they have adequate staffing, supplies and infection-control standards.

However, other nursing homes have been allowed to admit COVID-19 patients under private arrangements with hospitals. The practice is widespread. The state Department of Health has reviewed the cases of about half the patients hospitalized for COVID-19 statewide. The agency found that 27%, or about 268 patients, were discharged to long-term care facilities since the pandemic began.

The Minnesota Department of Health reports that as of Thursday, 663 (or 81.9 percent) out of 809 total COVID-19 deaths in the state were patients who became infected with coronavirus while residing “in long-term care or assisted living facilities.”

According to data compiled by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), Minnesota has the highest percent of COVID-19 deaths from nursing home patients of any of the 36 states that report that data. In fact, Minnesota’s 81.9 percent is 40 percent higher than the 41 percent average in those 36 states for COVID-19 deaths from nursing home patients.

In only four other states is the percentage of COVID-19 deaths from nursing home patients greater than 70 percent, the KFF reports: New Hampshire (77 percent), Rhode Island (77 percent), Nebraska (71 percent), and Pennsylvania (71 percent).

Minnesota appears to be one of the few states in the country that currently allows nursing homes to admit COVID-19 positive patients, a practice that other states earlier in the pandemic — such as New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania — have now walked back.

The Democrat governors of those states, Andrew Cuomo of New York, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, have come under withering political attack for their earlier decisions to require nursing homes to admit COVID-19 positive patients, which “critics say fueled coronavirus deaths in those facilities,” as Breitbart News reported.

For his part, Minnesota Gov. Walz has attempted to deflect criticism of the state’s controversial policy that allows nursing homes to accept COVID-19 positive patients by allowing the officials he has appointed to run the Department of Health explain the policy to the public.

On May 7, however, Gov. Walz and Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm jointly announced a “five-point battle plan” designed to address “COVID-19 challenges for long-term care facilities.”

Those five points are:

  1. Expand testing for residents and workers in long-term care facilities

  2. Provide testing support and troubleshooting to clear barriers faster

  3. Get personal protective equipment to facilities when needed

  4. Ensure adequate staffing levels for even the hardest-hit facilities

  5. Leverage our partnerships to better apply their skills and talents

A key sixth point, however, apparently was missing from the plan: Do not allow nursing homes to admit patients that test positive for COVID-19.

In the two weeks since Gov. Walz announced his “five-point battle plan,” the percentage of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota from nursing homes increased from 80.1 percent (407 out of 508) to 81.9 percent (663 out of 809).


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