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OBJECTIVE: To examine changes in the prescribing of end-of-life symptom management medications in long-term care (LTC) homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study using routinely collected health administrative data in Ontario, Canada. SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: We included all individuals who died in LTC homes between January 1, 2017, and March 31, 2021. We separated the study into 2 periods: before COVID-19 (January 1, 2017, to March 17, 2020) and during COVID-19 (March 18, 2020, to March 31, 2021). METHODS: For each LTC home, we measured the percentage of residents who died before and during COVID-19 who had a subcutaneous symptom management medication prescription in their last 14 days of life. We grouped LTC homes into quintiles based on their mean prescribing rates before COVID-19, and examined changes in prescribing during COVID-19 and COVID-19 outcomes across quintiles. RESULTS: We captured 75,438 LTC residents who died in Ontario's 626 LTC homes during the entire study period, with 19,522 (25.9%) dying during COVID-19. The mean prescribing rate during COVID-19 ranged from 46.9% to 79.4% between the lowest and highest prescribing quintiles. During COVID-19, the mean prescribing rate in the lowest prescribing quintile increased by 9.6% compared to before COVID-19. Compared to LTC homes in the highest prescribing quintile, homes in the lowest prescribing quintile experienced the highest proportion of COVID-19 outbreaks (73.4% vs 50.0%), the largest mean outbreak intensity (0.27 vs 0.09 cases/bed), the highest mean total days with a COVID-19 outbreak (72.7 vs 24.2 days), and the greatest proportion of decedents who were transferred and died outside of LTC (22.1% vs 8.6%). CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: LTC homes in Ontario had wide variations in the prescribing rates of end-of-life symptom management medications before and during COVID-19. Homes in the lower prescribing quintiles had more COVID-19 cases per bed and days spent in an outbreak.

Original publication




Journal article


J Am Med Dir Assoc

Publication Date



Administrative health data, COVID-19, end-of-life, health system measures, long-term care, medications