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Study Finds African Americans Less Likely to Get Flu Shots in Nursing Homes Than Whites

A recent article about race-based differences in care caught my eye as a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer. According to HealthDay News, a study by Brown University has found that African American nursing home patients are 23 percent less likely than white residents to get a flu vaccination. In fact, the vaccination rate for all groups fall short of Medicaid and Medicare’s target rate of 90 percent, at 82.75 percent. But that number for white residents was 83.46, while for African Americans it was 77.75 percent. Researchers suggested several explanations for the disparity, including a higher rate of refusal among African Americans as well as disparities in care.

The numbers come from annual patient records at 14,000 American nursing homes, during the flu seasons from late 2006 to early 2009. The results appear in the October issue of the journal Health Affairs. In a press release from Brown, study co-author Vincent Mor said the two racial groups often end up in different nursing homes, and that evidence suggests the ones serving African Americans are lower in quality. However, the researchers found a consistent difference in the groups’ vaccination rates even within the same homes — on average, African Americans were 15 percent less likely to be vaccinated than their white neighbors. Part of the problem could also have to do with vaccination refusal, the article noted; in 2008-2009, 12.88 percent of African Americans refused the vaccine, while only 8.93 percent of whites did. The authors suggested that future studies look into whether the refusals are influenced by the way the vaccination is offered.

The vaccine refusal rate is certainly interesting and worth following up on. But as a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I strongly suspect nursing home quality has much to do with the disparity. In my line of work, I see the effects of budget cuts on quality of care. When there are fewer staff members or less well-trained staff members, those who remain have to do more with less, and this can make it easy to forget or neglect important things, even to the point of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse. It can also make tempers shorter thanks to stress. All of this makes it more likely that something important but routine like a flu shot will be left by the wayside. This is especially a shame because the flu is particularly dangerous for older and immune-compromised people, who can easily be dehydrated by too much vomiting or diarrhea. Failing to address this is a dangerous type of neglect. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I hope homes are resolved to do better this flu season.

Rosenbaum & Associates represents Pennsylvania families struggling with harm to a loved one because of abuse or neglect at a nursing home. If you’d like to tell us your story and learn more about your legal options, call us today at 1-800-7-LEGAL-7 or send us a message online.

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