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Staff are now the biggest COVID spreaders in nursing homes

Fred Froese / iStockphoto via NPR

It may sound easy: vaccinate nursing home staff and residents against COVID-19 and the horrors of the last year will recede into the history books. But a local doctor says, it’s not that simple.
Dr. Bruce Troen is a professor and chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the University at Buffalo's Jacobs School of Medicine and a physician-investigator for the VA Healthcare System. That means he knows a lot about what goes on in nursing homes.

Troen said in the early day of community transmission, families and citizens were a problem, but now it’s staff.

"It likely has continued or, in some cases, gotten worse because there is transmission of the disease through staff, through folks who work at the nursing homes," he said. "So it’s not just about actually vaccinating the residents of the nursing homes, but hand in hand, that means staff."

Troen said this is a reflection of how our elderly are treated.

"We don’t really take good care of our frail older adults who are in such compromised conditions. And part of those deficiencies are in the wages that we pay for nursing home staff, which in many cases often leads to staff who might work at one nursing home also having a second job at another nursing home," he said.

There also is a major issue with staff and residents who don’t want to take the vaccine. State figures report up to half the staff in some areas of New York are refusing the vaccine. That might lead to mandated vaccinations.

About a third of residents are also refusing. Troen said there are medical ethics issues involved vaccinating those who are cognitively impaired and that it can only be done with the approval of family or guardians.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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