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Most nursing homes had problems dealing with infections even before coronavirus, report shows

A new federal report shows poor infection control was "widespread and persistent" in the country's nursing homes.

HOUSTON — Most of the nation’s nursing homes had problems with preventing and controlling infection long before the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new U.S. Government Accountability report.

The findings from the federal watchdog agency confirm what KHOU 11 exposed last month in Houston-area nursing homes.

Nursing home infection control deficiencies were “widespread and persistent” prior to COVID-19 according to the GAO report. It found that 82 percent of nursing homes evaluated were cited at least once between 2013 and 2017. In the Houston area, a KHOU 11 analysis of Medicare inspection reports found 75 percent of nursing homes had at least one violation between 2016 and 2019.

Many of the infection infractions involved basic hygiene practices.

RELATED: These Houston-area nursing homes have prior infection prevention violations

“One example could be a simple basic thing of ... nursing home staff not washing their hands and working with multiple residents,” said John Dicken, a director on the GAO’s health care team.

Other deficiencies involved not sterilizing medical equipment, not isolating sick residents, and allowing staff to work while they were sick.

While nearly all the deficiencies were classified as “not severe” by health inspectors and enforcement actions were rare, one local geriatric specialist said the pre-COVID findings are a wake-up call as the number of coronavirus-related deaths continue to grow in Texas.

“We have to put a better emphasis on the fundamentals,” said Dr. Carmel Dyer, professor of geriatric and palliative medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

RELATED: How COVID-19 has impacted nursing homes in Greater Houston

“It’s time and COVID has made that blatantly clear,” Dyer said. “We have to master the fundamentals to help keep people safe and healthy.”

There have been 537 coronavirus-related deaths in the state according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. That represents 37 percent of the 1440 total Covid-19 deaths as of publication time.

If you have a loved one in a Houston area-nursing home and want to check its infection control history, click HERE.

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