COLUMBIA, Mo. – A team of researchers at the University of Missouri will soon start investigating how the state’s nursing homes are responding to the pandemic.
Over the next year, investigators will visit 24 nursing homes in Missouri to see how the facilities are taking care of their residents. The research will include interviewing staff, residents, and family members.
“I think we learned some hard lessons, and human beings paid the prices with their lives,” said Amy Vogelsmeier, an associate professor at Mizzou’s Sinclair School of Nursing. “They [nursing home staff] were being asked to do things at a level they have never been asked to do previously.”
Missouri currently has the lowest vaccination rate for nursing home workers in the country. More than 3,800 nursing homes residents have died from COVID-19 in the past 18 months.
Vogelsmeier and another associate professor at the nursing school, Lori Popejoy, will be working with multiple researchers to compare residents’ data from before the pandemic to now. They will determine whether the residents experienced weight loss or depression, for example.
“We anticipate that people, residents, did not get the care that they probably needed to the degree that they probably needed or quickly enough,” Popejoy said. “During the pandemic, they [residents] were assigned to their rooms and nursing homes were not developed for that kind of care.”
Vogelsmeier said they will also speak with infection preventionists at the nursing homes.
“We expect to see that some nursing homes were able to manage better than others,” Vogelsmeier said. “To take what we learn and figure out how can we develop strategies that nursing homes across the country could basically implement should this happen again.”
Vogelsmeier said nursing homes deal with viral outbreaks all the time, like the flu, so this research could help in more than one way.
Researchers are still trying to determine which facilities they will investigate. Vogelsmeier said they are considering nursing homes with high and low COVID-19 infection rates.,
“What we’ll be able to find out is what was working and what wasn’t working, what didn’t work, and what potentially could have caused more problems,” Vogelsmeier said.
The overall goal of the study is to prevent a repeat of the past 18 months from happening again.
“The idea being, what can we learn from what happened in Missouri,” Vogelsmeier said. “How did they [staff] communicate between residents and families in creative ways?”
Popejoy said this research is personal to her because her father was in the nursing home over the summer and was not allowed to see him when he was very ill.
“It was very, very hard to be isolated from my father who I knew was really sick,” Popejoy said. “I developed a lot more understanding of what families went through during that time.”
The study recently received a four-year, $1.9 million grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Popejoy said her team expects to complete interviews by this time next year and will use the remaining time to sift through the data and publish their findings.
“We can prepare for it differently so that we are never separate families again because we never ever want to go through what we went through for the last year and a half in the same way,” Popejoy said.
Both nurses, who previously worked closely with nursing homes, said families are the eyes and ears for residents and staff.
“We have to learn from our experiences,” Popejoy said. “And to not understand this experience fully, is such a lost opportunity.”
Popejoy said another part of the research will include vaccinations inside facilities. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 86% of residents in nursing homes are vaccinated while only 56% of staff are vaccinated, the lowest in the country.