Jackson • Just 14% of Mississippi’s nursing homes have completed specialty COVID-19 training offered by the federal government to help squash transmission in their facilities.

Twenty-nine out of Mississippi’s 211 nursing homes have taken advantage of the free training as of early November – training at least 50% of their staff in COVID-19 infection control and vaccine distribution – according to new data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which regulates nursing homes.

Nationally about the same percent of all nursing homes have completed the training, so Mississippi is not alone in not ensuring all facilities have sought out and completed the training.

“We’ve provided nursing homes with $20 billion in federal funding, millions of pieces of PPE, free testing machines and supplies, and significant technical assistance and on-the-ground support,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement. “Ultimately, the ownership and management of every nursing (home) must take it on themselves to ensure their staff is fully equipped to keep residents safe. With coronavirus cases increasing across the country and infection control identified as a major issue, we encourage all nursing homes to take advantage of this no-cost opportunity to train their staff.”

The Mississippi facilities that participated in the training fare better than average for the rate of COVID-19 infection, signifying that the training is potentially translating to on-the-ground benefits for staff, and subsequently residents. Facilities that complete the free infection control course have a more than 10% reduction in overall resident cases, compared to Mississippi facilities that haven’t completed the training.

The training comes at a beneficial time for Mississippi nursing homes, where half of all residents have contracted the virus. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs has said better infection control could help Mississippi nursing homes stem spread.

“In places with really good infection control practices, a lot of times we’ll find zero cases,” he said in May, when the state initiated universal testing for all nursing home residents and staff – something that’s up to individual facilities to do now, but fewer than a quarter test every resident after a new case as of Nov. 1, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending such testing. A little over 40% report conducting surveillance test of asymptomatic residents to gauge exposure.

Currently, the state has the most COVID-19 infections per capita among nursing homes and one in five of those who contract it die.

The Mississippi facilities who have completed the training average about 350 COVID-19 cases per 1,000 residents, compared to the state overall averaging about 400 cases per capita.

Within the 29 that completed it, five have had no reported cases at all – only 23 facilities statewide have never had a known case. Seven additional facilities that took the training have had between one and five cases. Overall, 40% of those facilities that had the training have seen five or fewer cases.

Too, those that completed the safety training have had fewer cases among staff, averaging 18 staff cases per facility, compared to 21 cases statewide.

Further, the death rate among residents who contract the virus is lower at facilities that complete the training – averaging 14% where it’s completed, and 20% across the state.

Of the 12 facilities across the state that have an infection rate of more than 100% – meaning more residents have contracted it than there are current residents, due to deaths, transfers and discharges – only two have completed the training.

Medicare partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address common concerns found during inspections at facilities across the U.S. with a high rate of COVID-19 infection, including: hand hygiene and proper PPE use, resident surveillance and isolation strategies, cleaning, and specialty care for those with dementia during the pandemic

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