Why We Need an NBA Bubble for Nursing Homes

Earlier this year, my Great Aunt Paula died at 97. She was the last of a generation of old-time Italians in our family that lived on one street in Bridgeport, CT for decades. As the years went by, she developed health problems and had to live in a nursing home elsewhere in the state.

Nursing homes have been tinderboxes for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Like thousands of other nursing home residents in Connecticut alone, Aunt Paula died of COVID.

Nursing homes have many very high risk people living in close quarters. 72% of COVID deaths in Connecticut so far have occurred in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Nationally, the percentage of deaths that have occurred in nursing homes is a still-staggering 38%. Testing in Connecticut, among other states, has been woefully inadequate, with facilities allowed to cease testing if they’ve had no cases in 2 weeks. This is absurd given that the group is not sealed and the virus can be brought in from outside at any time.

But nursing homes could be much better protected if they adopted the practices of a group of very low risk people who also live in close quarters: NBA players.

With the right funding, nursing home workers (and potentially their families as well) could go into a bubble where they only interact with each other and the elderly residents they care for. This may require additional pay, but in a sector where employees tend to be paid poorly and mistreated, any additional pay is likely to be a powerful incentive.

Bubbles have already been created at some innovative and well-run facilities like Shady Oaks Assisted Living in Bristol, CT (explored in detail in this superb article). Shady Oaks escaped with no COVID fatalities. Owner Tyson Belanger, whose leadership throughout has been superlative, estimates that reproducing the system statewide would cost less than $10,000,000 per week. In the context of a multi-trillion dollar federal budget, this is a rounding error.

I only wish my great aunt had lived at Shady Oaks.

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