COLUMBIA, S.C. — Nursing home deaths in South Carolina are on the rise as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the state.
That's according to AARP, who released new data showing frightening trends.
"With our lower than average vaccination rates, we would expect those spikes to play out in nursing homes," said Joseph Meyers, Associate State Director of AARP South Carolina for Communication and Advocacy.
To get a better grasp of the COVID situation at nursing homes, AARP is tracking five areas:
- Nursing home resident cases
- Resident deaths
- Staff cases
- Staff shortages
- Number of facilities in urgent need of PPE
Here's what they found.
In the graphs below, the purple line is the national average, the red is South Carolina. In each area, our numbers are on the rise.
Roughly 1 out of every 1,000 residents are dying of COVID-19.
Just over 1 out of every 100 residents gets the virus, tying the national average.
What's above the national average is the number of infected staff. More than 2 out of every 100 employees are sick.
Right now, 3.3% of South Carolina nursing homes need PPE, personal protective equipment.
17.6% are reporting a need for more employees.
This most recent set of data is based on the four-week period ending August 22.
"In South Carolina, more than 80% of the deaths that are occurring are among the unvaccinated," Meyers explained.
Health experts with DHEC believe what can make this situation improve is the vaccine.
"Vaccination is certainly our strongest weapon against COVID-19 hospitalization and mortality. The uptick in nursing homes is related in large part to the lack of vaccination among everyone," said Dr. Jane Kelly, Assistant State Epidemiologist with SCDHEC.
The goal is for 75% of nursing home staff to be fully-vaccinated, according to the American Health Care Association. South Carolina falls way behind, with 54.4%.
"The resident rate of vaccinations are a little better. They are at 82% and national average is 84%," said Meyers. "I believe in South Carolina, we're at under 9% of all nursing homes have more than 75% of their staff vaccinated."
Last month, President Joe Biden announced all nursing home staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order for those facilities to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.
"With the onset of the pandemic, we've just seen it exacerbate the [staff shortage]. You have relatively low wage workers sometimes who do not want to put themselves at risk or that do not feel that their risk is warranted or do not feel safe at work," said Meyer.
In efforts to retain more nursing home employees, Meyers says AARP is pushing for a pay raise.
"[These residents] are not patients in a hospital. The nursing home is where they live. They have nowhere else to go in many cases. They deserve to be protected," said Meyers.
DHEC also compiled a list of all long term care facilities in the state which shows the number of cases and deaths among residents and staff at each establishment.