The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Nursing Homes:
Death Traps for the Elderly

Jan 18, 2021

The pandemic has been ravaging nursing homes. People in nursing homes account for about 40% of all COVID deaths in the U.S., even though they make up less than one percent of the U.S. population!

This is because nursing homes were death traps way before the pandemic ever hit. They are overcrowded facilities, with minimal levels of staffing to serve the needs of their elderly residents. The average pay in the nursing-home industry is $13 an hour, which forces many workers to take two and sometimes even three jobs, trying to stay afloat. These workers typically don’t have health insurance or paid sick leave either; so they go to work even if they have symptoms, then they go to other nursing homes and spread the disease.

But behind these dismal places that warehouse the elderly and infirm are enormous profits. For nursing homes are a huge business with a revenue of $166 billion in 2017. That makes nursing homes a bigger industry than the U.S. hotel industry. Seventy percent of the nursing homes in the U.S. are run by for-profit companies. And it has been increasingly attractive to big financial companies, whose general business strategy is to buy companies, squeeze as much cash out of them as possible, and sell them at a profit.

For these big financial companies, nursing homes have a guaranteed cash flow provided by government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, with almost no government regulation. So these companies literally get away with murder, given the conditions they impose on the residents and staff alike.

In fact, one of the reasons for such a high death count at the nursing homes was that the regulators at many public agencies even designated them as recipients of COVID patients, including facilities that had already had many COVID deaths—as the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health did, for example. And the nursing-home companies welcomed these COVID patients, because they would collect Medicare payments for them. It wasn’t until September, more than six months into the pandemic, that the federal government’s CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) even required nursing homes to test residents and staff!

The majority of nursing home deaths could be avoided—if nursing homes were not treated as places to deposit elderly people, who don’t have enough money to pay for better care. These are our elders—people who, throughout their lives, helped build the society we live in today.

Big capital, which calls all the shots in this society, has not found actually caring for people in their old age profitable enough. So it continues to condemn a majority of society’s elderly members to an abominable existence in “normal” times, and to outright death in the time of the pandemic.