May 18, 2020
The Coronavirus has been tearing through nursing home facilities—they are the sites of many of the largest outbreaks all over the country. In Illinois, of more than 3,000 dead, nearly half were living in nursing homes in the state.
Nursing homes are close-quarters environments, where staff are physically cleaning and helping residents. Once one resident catches the virus, it spreads easily. And nursing homes concentrate the elderly and the sick—that is, the people most vulnerable to the disease. The environment in a nursing home poses problems, but capitalism, which exploits these homes for profit, turns the problem deadly.
At the largest nursing home in the state, City View Multi-Care Center in Cicero, nine residents and one staff worker have died of COVID-19, with 165 positive tests among residents and 41 from staff. Just three weeks ago, there were 38 cases. This is a quarter of all of the cases in Cicero, a working class suburb just west of Chicago. City View is for-profit, and, unsurprisingly, has the lowest rating by the government—1 star. The facility is now under a restraining order that staff must wear masks—the owner was skimping on safety to pad his pocketbook.
Seventy percent of the country’s nursing homes are for-profit. To the capitalists who own the nursing homes, our poor and elderly become “reliable income streams.”
By every measure, for-profit homes do worse by their residents: quality of care, staffing, citations. They pay as low as they can get away with. For-profit homes are short-staffed, a problem which becomes worse when workers themselves get infected. And the pressure to squeeze profit pushes the owners to cut every corner on safety.
Every nursing home could be staffed, with professional staff, well-paid for this essential work. Supply them with the Personal Protective Equipment necessary to help keep staff and residents safe. Provide testing for all residents and staff. Of course all of these steps would cost money, eating into the profits of the owners of these homes. Our society pushes the owners to line their pockets at the cost of our parents’ and grandparents’ lives.
A daughter who lost her father at a home in Chicago’s suburbs said, “It’s horrifying to be in a nursing home with a parent and you are at the mercy of strangers. You are at the mercy that this nursing home has ethics and morals and compassion for these people.” But it is the function of this system, which pushed nursing homes into private hands and squeezes them to make profit—it is this system which is merciless.