This week, the Southern California Medical Association released a report on nursing home deaths, and its findings are just as important as any data in a public health effort to improve care for residents and families.
The report is the culmination of more than a decade of work by the association’s National Council of Nursing Homes, a group of leaders who have been in place for the past 15 years to guide the way in the industry.
The association’s report is based on data from the California Department of Health Care Services and other sources, but it includes more than 1,100 deaths that occurred in nursing homes between January 1, 2007 and January 31, 2020.
It found that about one-third of all nursing homes were at risk of deaths within the next year, and more than half of the deaths occurred in a nursing home with no resident or family.
The overall number of deaths in nursing home settings dropped by nearly 30 percent between January and the end of 2020, and it’s likely that the drop is even more significant for older and more senior residents.
In contrast, the number of people dying at nursing homes in the state rose by nearly 50 percent from the end to the end, from 1,823 in 2019 to 2,547 in 2020.
The increase in mortality rates has been driven by the aging of the population, the decline of assisted living facilities, and a combination of other factors, according to the report.
In the past five years, the population of nursing home residents has dropped by 6,200 people, or about 9 percent, and the number with no nursing home care has grown by 4,000 people, the report found.
The state’s largest nursing home operators have had to find a new way to provide care, and some have had significant cost savings.
Some companies have cut services to nursing homes and increased their prices to attract new residents.
Others have cut their staffing levels to compete with younger patients who want to live with family members.
But the report also found that some operators have done the right thing in their efforts to reduce the number and severity of deaths at their facilities.
“The industry is moving in the right direction,” said Dr. Richard Smith, the chair of the Southern Nevada Medical Association’s nursing home committee and the report’s lead author.
“We’re seeing the benefits of that.
But there’s more work to do.”
The Southern California Association of State Nursing Homes and Hospitals, the trade group representing the state’s nursing homes industry, was not immediately available for comment.
In addition to the drop in nursing-home deaths, the association noted that its members are finding a lot of work-life balance in their nursing homes.
In 2019, more than 16,000 of the group’s members were employed in full-time positions, and 6,400 of them worked in full time jobs, the study found.
A further 4,700 members were on the wait list for nursing home placement.
Some of those people were also working full- or part-time jobs at their own homes or in other facilities, said Sharon Johnson, a senior vice president for the association.
The industry is trying to find ways to help its workers get back to work after they retire, she said.
“In some ways, that’s a way to keep them in their homes, so they can continue to be there for their families,” she said, noting that many residents will retire from nursing homes to care for elderly family members and grandchildren.
Nursing home care, however, is not always easy.
The study found that residents in nursing facilities with high-stress situations often have to go on short breaks.
The most common problem with these short-term breaks is that they cause a lot more stress than people would expect, because they’re often required to spend more time on their job than they would expect in a non-stress environment, said John J. Koehler, president of the California Association for the Care of the Elderly.
“Some people can do very well in their job, but when they get into situations that require them to be in a hospital, they get stressed,” he said.
And when the person is stressed, it’s harder for them to get a full recovery, Koehlers said.
The Southern Californian has previously reported on how nursing home families are coping with the challenges that come with aging.
In 2015, a nursing-care facility in Orange County, California, was found to have a problem with its residents, with a shortage of nurses and an ongoing lack of space for residents.
“They’re not just going to be able to get into their homes and do their work,” said David G. Johnson, president and CEO of the association, in an interview.