James M. Berklan

In certain parts of the country, protesters have gained traction with calls for “defunding” police departments.

The movement stems from protesters claiming police digressions, often administered without racial sensitivity. Don’t pour more money into policing infrastructures that create a climate where officers of the law do things like shoot a protester seven times in the back, is how the thinking goes, for example.

Now, it’s nursing homes’ turn. With the coronavirus wreaking havoc on the public in general, and nursing homes in particular, critics are coming out of the woodwork. Often with Ph.D. in hand.

Is COVID-19 putting providers in a historically untenable, unaffordable position? Or is the biggest public health crisis in a century merely exposing previously existing weaknesses that show operators deserve to get all the punishment that can be meted out?

You can clearly put a new report from a University of Arizona researcher in the latter camp. It’s part of a bigger examination of the effects of the pandemic, “Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19.” The chapter from Tara Sklar, Professor of Health Law and Director of the Health Law & Policy Program at the James E. Rogers College of Law, comes at providers head-on.

In summary, key parts of her answer to “fixing” the nursing home situation are this: Set and enforce staffing ratios, stop considering pandemic liability shields, mandate maximum personal protective equipment usage, increase oversight by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the lists go on.

The location of the treasure chest that would pay for all of it wasn’t identified. Sklar’s rationale is that the vast majority of nursing homes are for-profits and they don’t have enough incentive to change, so they skimp on staffing, as well as things like infection control practices. And that takes care of that.

The criticisms and statistics used to build her argument are nothing providers haven’t seen before. But in this case, they are stacked with the artistic finesse of a prize architect turned master bricklayer.

To be fair, Sklar also identifies systemic problems that everyone can agree on: Aides are not paid enough and they should be encouraged to not work at multiple facilities. Also, states should repeal any executive orders that call for nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients. There are others, cogently argued.

The frustration seethes out of the pages, and that’s one emotion Sklar shares with the prey in her crosshairs.

She predicts a new “defund” movement could spring up and target the nursing home industry.

“In response to the tens of thousands of arguably avoidable deaths in connection to nursing homes, there’s been a growing ‘defund’ movement, especially with what’s been happening parallel to this with Black Lives Matter and police brutality with the ‘defund the police’ argument,” she said in a University of Arizona news release.

“There is a similar case here — that we should defund a system that has already caused so much harm and suffering, even pre-COVID,” she added.

Her aim is at “the system.” Many who work in it might agree with some of the criticisms.

But they would also point out that taking money out of it while putting more potential punishments in would fuel a movement they want no part of.

Follow Executive Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.