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Coronavirus hits harder in nursing homes with Black, Hispanic residents

Cases and deaths were more common in facilities where at least 20 percent of residents were in those minority groups. It’s part of a broader disparity.

Nursing homes with larger populations of Black or Hispanic residents have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a higher likelihood of reported cases and deaths, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The disparities among nursing homes with a high share of Hispanic residents were particularly high in Florida, the analysis found. And they mirror the broader trend of COVID-19 hitting communities of color hard and fast.

Across the country, COVID-19 deaths are more common in nursing homes where Black or Hispanic people make up at least 20 percent of the resident population. Sixty-three percent of long-term care facilities with that share of Black residents reported at least one COVID-19 death compared to 40 percent of facilities with a lower share. A similar trend was found among facilities with a high share of Hispanic residents.

Coronavirus cases were also more likely to be reported in nursing homes with a high share of Black or Hispanic residents, although the disparities were less stark. Outbreaks also were more severe in facilities with a high share of minority residents, with a higher percentage testing positive.

The analysis collected data from nearly 14,000 long-term care facilities across the country. Twelve percent of residents were Black and 6 percent were Hispanic.

According to a separate analysis by Kaiser, long-term care facilities account for 8 percent of all COVID-19 cases and over 40 percent of deaths. And an analysis by the Associated Press found that new weekly cases among nursing home residents has skyrocketed, increasing from 1,083 in May to 4,274 in October.

Related: Nursing home COVID-19 cases rise four-fold in surge states

Outbreaks in Florida nursing homes were more severe, according to the Kaiser analysis on disparities. Sixty-five percent of nursing homes in the state had at least one coronavirus death, compared to 45 percent nationwide.

And Florida facilities with a high share of Hispanic residents have been hit the hardest. Eighty-five percent of them have had at least one coronavirus death, compared to 63 percent at nursing homes with lower shares of Hispanic people.

“Studies on the impact of COVID-19 in the general population have found that the virus has disproportionately impacted minority groups,” Florida Health Care Association spokeswoman Kristen Knapp said in an email. “Typically, what occurs in the general population is mirrored in long-term care facilities.”

Black people face systematic health disparities in America, said Lindsay Peterson, research assistant professor of aging studies at the University of South Florida. They tend to live in areas where they have less access to doctors and good hospitals.

“And these things just sort of repeat themselves in an exaggerated fashion in nursing homes,” she said.

Research has shown that Black Americans live in nursing homes in segregated neighborhoods, where most residents are Black, Peterson said. And because of some of the systemic disparities in health and income, they tend to be low-income nursing homes, where a large proportion of the residents are on Medicaid, she said.

“There’s cherry picking among nursing homes for the richest people to bring into their rehab facilities, because they pay at a higher rate,” Peterson said. “Unfortunately, some nursing homes try to get rid of their Medicaid residents.”

So after suffering through a lifetime of health disparities, Peterson said, these individuals move into lower-resource facilities that might not provide the same level of care that more upscale facilities provide.

Florida’s disparities may be more reflective of geographical trends as opposed to nursing home makeup, said Jeff Johnson, the state director for AARP Florida. Facilities in Miami-Dade County have seen a large number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and the county has a relatively large Hispanic population, which could skew the statistics, Johnson said.

“These facilities are going to reflect the communities around them," he said.

Still, there is more to learn.

While some research suggests minority groups may get inferior care due to factors such as implicit bias, lower quality medical facilities and barriers that prevent access, “we don’t know that as much about long-term care facilities," Johnson said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 6,873 nursing home residents and staff have died due to the coronavirus, according to the most recent data from the Florida Department of Health. Because Florida does not report coronavirus cases and deaths in long-term care facilities by race or ethnicity, data and research on impacts within these facilities is limited.

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg provides partial funding for Times stories on equity. It does not select story topics and is not involved in the reporting or editing.