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Alarming New Findings In 2020 COVID-19 Nursing Home Death Data

In the most comprehensive government report yet, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) revealed that 2020 nursing home deaths skyrocketed by 32% amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement also highlighted two separate spikes that occurred eight months apart. The alarming statistics point to the failure of nursing homes to protect our country’s most vulnerable.

Watchdog Report: Nursing Home Deaths Soared in 2020

A recent government watchdog report announced that 2020 COVID-19 nursing home deaths were even worse than once believed.

The report was issued by the HHS and included the most comprehensive COVID-19 nursing home death analysis to date.

“We knew this was going to be bad, but I don’t think even those of us who work in this area thought it was going to be this bad. […] We are talking about a really big number of excess deaths.”

一David C. Grabowski, Ph.D., Professor of Health Care Policy, Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School

Overall, nursing home deaths jumped by 169,291 from the year before.

Two spikes were especially alarming:

  • April 2020 saw 81,484 Medicare patient nursing home deaths
  • December 2020 saw 74,299 Medicare patient nursing home deaths, even after lockdowns and testing were widespread

As of March 2021, almost 1 in 10 people who lived in nursing homes died of COVID-19.

The nursing home infection rate for low-income residents with both Medicare and Medicaid reached 56%, with the death rate reaching 26%.

Even more shocking, many nursing home deaths occurred after it was obvious that long-term care facilities were at enormous risk. This leads some to believe that many of these wrongful deaths were preventable.

“This is happening long after it was clear that nursing homes were particularly vulnerable. We really have to look at that. Why did they remain so vulnerable?”

一Nancy Harrison, HHS Deputy Regional Inspector General

Federal investigators are still digging deeper to determine what caused so many nursing home deaths.

2020 COVID-19 Nursing Home Deaths: What Do the Numbers Tell Us?

Within the nursing home industry, there are two main groups that are considered authorities. They are the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and LeadingAge.

Both groups state that the shocking COVID-19 nursing home death rate is a reflection of how our government fails to prioritize frail elders, who tend to be our most vulnerable population.

A representative from LeadingAge lamented that the numbers tell us that our government views older people as unimportant.

“[It] showed once again how ageism can result in policies that treat older people as expendable.”

一Katie Smith Sloan, President of LeadingAge

What Is Being Done About COVID-19 Nursing Home Deaths?

Since the start of the pandemic, the government has:

  • Required nursing homes to self-report COVID-19 cases and deaths
  • Ordered testing
  • Provided limited personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Established education requirements
  • Offered COVID-19 vaccines to residents and staff
  • Reported vaccination status of residents and staff
  • Issued guidance for in-person visitation

While the government has taken these steps to improve the situation in nursing homes, many argue it is still not enough.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), over 184,000 nursing home residents and staff have died from COVID-19. This number accounts for about a third of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States.

Of significant concern is how the government will ensure the catastrophe that the pandemic caused in nursing homes does not happen again.

“Hopefully, COVID will go away, but once that happens, there will always be infectious diseases, and we all need to ask ourselves what we can do to protect vulnerable nursing home residents going forward.”

一Nancy Harrison, HHS Deputy Regional Inspector General

COVID-19 nursing home deaths are down, but the pandemic is not over. As long as the elderly population is seen as a low priority, nursing home residents may continue to needlessly suffer.

Nursing Home Abuse Support Team

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

  1. AARP. (2021). AARP Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard. Retrieved July 26, 2021 from
  2. Alonso-Zaldivar, R. (2021). Watchdog: Nursing Home Deaths Up 32% In 2020 Amid Pandemic. AP News. Retrieved July 26, 2021 from
  3. COVID Tracking Project. (2021). Long-Term-Care COVID Tracker. Retrieved July 26, 2021 from