The huge nursing home event of the week — the House subcommittee hearing about providers’ response during the first three months of the pandemic — was a classic. Classic in the sense that it brought truth to light.
A more cynical person than I might suggest that this is the point of such political performances.
There were lawmakers badgering expert witnesses, demanding answers to unanswerable questions while smiling pretty for any nearby cameras.
There were grieving families, graciously sharing their heartbreaking misfortunes for the benefit of the nation.
There were experts endorsing idealistic goals that coincidentally could fuel future research and work-goal agendas.
There were a lot of things at this retrospective coronavirus carnival. But what might have been most remarkable was what was not represented at this nursing home-centric hearing.
To be fair, there also wasn’t a representative of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which also took a few licks. But talk about being tried in absentia.
It’s no wonder providers were more than a little peeved at what they saw as cherry picking of disgruntled employees’ quotes in a report issued hours ahead of the hearing. The report prefacing Wednesday’s hearing was ripe with facts but also plenty of anecdotal observations.
We spoke with more than one targeted nursing chain executive who groused that many allegations were found to be unsubstantiated.
Still others, including the nation’s largest nursing home association, took the tack that everyone was struggling with best responses to the unprecedented health emergency. Sometimes, federal or local officials’ positions flip-flopped, they also pointed out.
“It’s unfortunate that we need to remind lawmakers what those early days were like,” appropriately lamented Mark Parkinson, the president and CEO of the American Health Care Association on Wednesday.
It was he who first went on national television to warn lawmakers and others in early 2020 that the coming novel coronavirus wave was almost a “perfect killing machine” for nursing home residents. This was truth, as the statistics have borne out.
How quickly they forget.
But providers also should not forget that their accusers have truths of their own. One can barter over how much PPE a provider actually should have had at the onset of the pandemic, or whether missed handwashing here and there truly caused massive deaths.
But there is no equivocation around certain issues raised by Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Chairman Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC). Lawmakers wanted to know why more employees didn’t — and don’t — have paid sick leave. And Congress in general has shown a big appetite for having more nursing home ownership transparency.
These are things that pre-date COVID’s heyday and remain today. And they’ll post-date the pandemic, too, if something isn’t done before then.
When you start adding up all the efforts such as President Biden’s calling out of nursing homes and things like Wednesday’s public relations double-whammy, one thing becomes clear: Nursing homes are not going to wiggle out of the spotlight too easily any time soon.
James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Executive Editor.
Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.