New Disparity in Nursing Homes: Whites Leave, Elders of Color Enter

Changing demographics and stubbornly consistent gaps in health care access are to blame.

By Jorge Rivas Oct 21, 2011

A new study by researchers at Brown University  Brown University found that more Latino, black and Asian seniors are moving into nursing homes, while white seniors are choosing other options.

The nationwide trend is said to be driven by changing demographics, but it’s also because many elders of color can’t afford alternatives.

"The growing proportion of minorities in nursing homes is coming about partly because they do not have the same access to more desirable forms of care as wealthier whites do," said the study’s lead author Zhanlian Feng, assistant professor of community health in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

"Seemingly, we are closing the gap in terms of minority access to nursing home beds, but I don’t think that is something to celebrate," Feng said in a statement. "They are really the last resort. Most elders would rather stay in their homes, or some place like home, but not a nursing home unless they have to."

Researchers found that between 1999 and 2008, the number of elderly Latinos living in U.S. nursing homes climbed by 54.9 percent; Asians increased by 54.1 percent; and blacks rose 10.8 percent. In that same time period, the numbers of white nursing home patients decreased by 10.2 percent nationwide.

In communities that are mostly of color, prior research has shown that available nursing homes are often of lower quality and are more likely to close, while assisted living facilities are more likely to be built in areas where residents have higher incomes.

The result is a disparity that plays out not only economically and geographically, but also racially, Feng said.

"We know those alternatives are not equally available, accessible, or affordable to everybody, certainly not to many minority elders."

"As policymakers look to ‘rebalance’ elder care from nursing homes to other forms of care, for instance with shifts in Medicaid funding to support home and community-based services, they should account for these disparities," Feng said.

Read the full report here: "Growth of Racial And Ethnic Minorities In US Nursing Homes Driven By Demographics And Possible Disparities In Options."