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J Res Med Sci 2021,  26:40

Mortality and characteristics of older people dying with COVID-19 in Lombardy nursing homes, Italy: An observational cohort study

1 IRCCS Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi, Milan, Italy
2 IRCCS Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi, Florence; The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, Pisa, Italy
3 IRCCS Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi, Florence, Italy
4 IRCCS Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi, Milan; The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, Pisa, Italy

Date of Submission07-Sep-2020
Date of Decision14-Sep-2020
Date of Acceptance10-Jan-2021
Date of Web Publication30-Jun-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Chiara Arienti
IRCCS Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi, Via Alfonso Capecelatro, Milan
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jrms.JRMS_1012_20

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Background: The aim of the study was to describe the epidemiological characteristics of Nursing Homes (NHs) residents infected by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection and to compute the related case-fatality rate. Materials and Methods: The outcomes were mortality and case-fatality rate with related epidemiological characteristics (age, sex, comorbidity, and frailty). Results: During the COVID-19 outbreak lasted from March 1 to May 7, 2020, 330 residents died in Fondazione Don Gnocchi NHs bringing the mortality rate to 27% with a dramatic increase compared to the same period of 2019, when it was 7.5%. Naso/oropharyngeal swabs resulted positive for COVID-19 in 315 (71%) of the 441of the symptomatic/exposed residents tested. The COVID-19 population was 75% female, with a 17% overall fatality rate and sex-specific fatality rates of 19% and 13% for females and males, respectively. Fifty-six percent of deaths presented SARS-CoV-2-associated pneumonia, 15% cardiovascular, and 29% miscellaneous pathologies. Conclusion: Patients' complexity and frailty might influence SARS-CoV-2 infection case-fatality rate estimates. A COVID-19 register is needed to study COVID-19 frail patients' epidemiology and characteristics.

Keywords: COVID-19, epidemiology, frail elderly, mortality, nursing homes

How to cite this article:
Arienti C, Brambilla L, Campagnini S, Fanciullacci C, Giunco F, Mannini A, Patrini M, Tartarone F, Carrozza MC. Mortality and characteristics of older people dying with COVID-19 in Lombardy nursing homes, Italy: An observational cohort study. J Res Med Sci 2021;26:40

How to cite this URL:
Arienti C, Brambilla L, Campagnini S, Fanciullacci C, Giunco F, Mannini A, Patrini M, Tartarone F, Carrozza MC. Mortality and characteristics of older people dying with COVID-19 in Lombardy nursing homes, Italy: An observational cohort study. J Res Med Sci [serial online] 2021 [cited 2023 Feb 2];26:40. Available from: https://www.jmsjournal.net/text.asp?2021/26/1/40/320515

  Introduction Top

On February 20th, the first severe case of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pneumonia was diagnosed in Lombardy region, northern Italy. Within 14 days, the epidemic spread across Lombardy, with a substantial number of critically ill patients.[1] It was the beginning of a large cluster of COVID-19 with more than 84,844 cases and 27,430 deaths up to May 2020.[2] Despite the containment measures issued by national and local governments, the number of infected continued to rise.[3] This, along with the well-recognized Nursing Homes (NHs) residents' frailty and vulnerability to respiratory diseases outbreaks,[4] has led to a very high COVID-19 case-fatality rate in frail old populations.[5] The high impact that COVID-19 had in this setting is even more evident comparing yearly mortality rates reported by previously conducted studies, which ranged between 14.4% and 22.4%,[6],[7] and the rates reported by recent literature: 32% and up to 43% in residents aged 90 years and older.[8]

On March 24, 2020, the Istituto Superiore di Sanità launched a survey to monitor the situation and devise plans for health-care-associated infection control and prevention. This report focuses on the six Lombardy-based Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi Nursing Homes (FDG-NHs) to investigate causes and origins of the COVID-19 outbreak negative effects in Lombardy NHs.[9] The aim is to provide an epidemiological description of FDG-NHs COVID-19-infected residents' cohort and compute the disease case-rate fatality.

  Methods Top

Study design and setting

An observational analytic cohort study[10] was conducted in Lombardy-based FDG-NHs residents infected by SARS-CoV-2, addressing the period March 1–May 7, 2020. The reporting of this study conforms to the STROBE guidelines [Supplementary File – STROBE checklist].

FDG is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to rehabilitation and assistance of frail people. FDG includes two scientific research hospitals, 14 rehabilitation centers, 3 hospices, 1 residential care, and 8 NHs, 6 (75%) of which located in Lombardy.


From the beginning of the outbreak, FDG-NHs activated a surveillance to identify SARS-CoV-2 infection cases and provided guidance on isolation, quarantine, and testing for symptomatic close contacts of their residents. The first COVID-19 case was a 75-year-old woman presenting with cough, fever, and dyspnea. She was diagnosed on March 16th after positive naso/oropharyngeal swab results and died 6 days later from SARS-CoV-2 severe pneumonia. All FDG-NHs COVID-19-affected residents were included in the study; information on symptoms, frailty, severity, and comorbidities was collected.

Outcome measures

Patients' frailty was measured with Scheda di osservazione intermedia dell'assistenza (SOSIA), an intermediate observation of assistance form used in Lombardy. Residents are classified into eight isofrailty classes (high frailty = 1 and no frailty = 8), according to motor and cognitive skills impairment and the presence of comorbidities.[11] Overall mortality and case-fatality ratio – associated with epidemiological characteristics in terms of age, sex, comorbidity, frailty levels, and death cause – were computed.

Statistical analysis

Descriptive statistics was used to analyze categorical variables in size and percentage (absolute and relative frequencies). To reduce any potential source of bias, data were collected from anonymized medical histories by a researcher blinded to the aims of the study.

  Results Top

On February 29, 2020, there were 1234 residents in Lombardy-based FDG-NHs with a mean age of 85 ± 9.89 years, 947 (77%) females and 287 (23%) males. The mortality rate during the COVID-19 outbreak occurred between March 1 and May 7, 2020 was 27% (330 deaths) marking a drastic increase compared to the same period of the previous year, when it was 7.5%. During that period, 441 (36%) naso/oropharyngeal swabs were performed on either symptomatic or exposed residents. Three hundred and fifteen (71%) were confirmed as COVID-19 cases, 188 (60%) symptomatic and 127 (40%) asymptomatic. The COVID-19 population was 85 ± 8.74 years old and 75% female (237). Of the total 55 deaths within this cohort, 56% (31) presented SARS-CoV-2-associated pneumonia, 15% (8) cardiovascular diseases, and 29% (16) miscellaneous pathologies. The residents who died with COVID-19 had an average age of 87 ± 6.93 years, with a fatality rate of 17% (55 deaths/315 individuals). Females, with high frailty level (SOSIA level between 1 and 3 scores), represented 73% (40/55) of all the deaths, with a sex-specific fatality rate of 19% (45/237), while males' fatality was 13% (10/78).
Figure 1: Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi Nursing Homes fatality rate confirmed cases of COVID-19

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  Discussion Top

Our results show that the deceased residents were very old, females, with high frailty level, and many comorbidities. Findings on the impact of COVID-19 in NHs are still scarce, not allowing to draw widely generalizable conclusions, but the case-fatality rate in FDG-NHs appeared lower compared with similar setting in other countries.[12] Recent evidence confirms this[13],[14] and highlights the challenge of containing the epidemic in vulnerable NHs populations.[15] Furthermore, our findings highlight that COVID-19 case-fatality rate might be influenced by patients' complexity and frailty. The exact number of people who died directly from severe pneumonia caused by SARS-CoV-2 or indirectly from infection consequences is still unknown.[16] A National COVID-19 Register is urgently needed to study epidemiological and clinical characteristics of COVID-19 frail patients to develop prognostic models on infection and mortality risk, disease progression, and length of hospitalization.

The main limitation of the study was the emergency situation that constrained data collection impeding to perform additional analysis.

  Conclusion Top

The COVID-19 outbreak, with its high human cost, highlights the need of robust systems for dealing with emergencies. A standardized monitoring of the disease transmission is necessary to structure a solid epidemiological description useful to inform public health action. The National COVID-19 register aims to lay the foundations for a shared close observation of the problem.


The authors would like to thank Dr. Antonio Troisi, Dr. Fausto Colombo, Dr. Federica Piazzolla, Dr. Chiara Geroli, Dr. Ilir Leshi, Dr. Francesca Cantoni, Dr. Elena Santoro, and Dr. Adriana Mapelli for the support on the data collection.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Odone A, Delmonte D, Scognamiglio T, Signorelli C. COVID-19 deaths in Lombardy, Italy: data in context. Lancet Public Health 2020;5:e310.  Back to cited text no. 1
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Grasselli G, Pesenti A, Cecconi M. Critical care utilization for the COVID-19 outbreak in Lombardy, Italy: Early experience and forecast during an emergency response. JAMA 2020;323:1545-6.  Back to cited text no. 3
Lansbury LE, Brown CS, Nguyen-Van-Tam JS. Influenza in long-term care facilities. Influenza Other Respir Viruses 2017;11:356-66.  Back to cited text no. 4
Livingston E, Bucher K. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Italy. JAMA 2020;323:1335.  Back to cited text no. 5
Vossius C, Selbæk G, Šaltytė Benth J, Bergh S. Mortality in nursing home residents: A longitudinal study over three years. PLoS One 2018;13:e0203480.  Back to cited text no. 6
Reilev M, Lundby C, Jensen J, Larsen SP, Hoffmann H, Pottegård A. Morbidity and mortality among older people admitted to nursing home. Age Ageing 2019;49:67-73.  Back to cited text no. 7
Down A, Dhillon A, Stretch G. COVID-19 in Care Homes: Atypical Presentations and High Mortality Rates Mean Outbreak Management Needs to Include Health and Social Care-Early Identification of Atypical Clinical Signs, and Complete Segregation of Cases, Not Cohorting, Is Essential; June, 2020. [doi: 10.20944/preprints202006.0060.v1].  Back to cited text no. 8
Trabucchi M, De Leo D. Nursing homes or besieged castles: COVID-19 in northern Italy. Lancet Psychiatry 2020;7:387-8.  Back to cited text no. 9
Grimes DA, Schulz KF. An overview of clinical research: The lay of the land. Lancet 2002;359:57-61.  Back to cited text no. 10
Dotti C, Casale G, Zacchi V, Lovaglio P, Fazzone U. SOSIA classification of the frail elderly in nursing homes of region of Lombardy. Ann Ig 2006;18:439-51.  Back to cited text no. 11
McMichael TM, Currie DW, Clark S, Pogosjans S, Kay M, Schwartz NG, et al. Epidemiology of Covid-19 in a long-term care facility in king county, Washington. N Engl J Med 2020;382:2005-11.  Back to cited text no. 12
Hsu AT, Lane N, Sinha SK, Dunning J, Dhuper M, Kahiel Z, et al. Report: Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on Residents of Canada's Long-Term Care Homes – Ongoing Challenges and Policy Responses. Article in LTCcovid.org, International Long-Term Care Policy Network, CPEC-LSE; June 04, 2020.  Back to cited text no. 13
'COVID-19 Nursing Home Data'. Available from: https://data.cms.gov/stories/s/COVID-19-Nursing-Home-Data/bkwz-xpvg/. [Last accessed on 2020 Jul 08].  Back to cited text no. 14
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