Two Democratic senators are demanding a better response to COVID-19 in nursing homes from the federal government after an analysis found that more than 16,800 residents and workers died of the disease in July and August.
“This is an American tragedy. There’s no excuse for these numbers to keep going up,” report author Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said Wednesday. His comments came during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions hearing on the federal government’s response to the pandemic.
“We should not allow the next couple of months to transpire and have the number of nursing home deaths or the nursing home case number go up again. That is not the America we should be,” he added.
The report, which was released by Casey and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), found that, on average, 11 residents died every hour and one resident was infected every minute during July and August. The analysis was a follow up from a July report that found the administration’s delayed response exacerbated the pandemic’s impact on nursing homes.
It also revealed that as of Aug. 30 700 nursing homes didn’t have the ability to test all residents or workers within the next week. Additionally, one in five nursing homes reported shortages of aides, and one in seven reported a shortage of nurses, according to the report.
“The consequence of the Trump Administration’s errors and delays has been a devastating loss of life, especially in nursing homes. The following findings in this updated report show the degree to which nursing home residents and workers are still under siege from COVID-19,” the senators wrote.
They called for the federal government to “urgently” provide personal protective equipment and testing to facilities and ensure adequate data is collected from providers on all things COVID-19, which would include total deaths and cases, PPE supplies, testing and workforce information. Nursing homes have been required to report their COVID-19 data since April following guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Additionally, the federal government launched its effort to deliver point-of-care testing supplies to all U.S. nursing homes in July and has continuously ramped up those efforts since.
Additionally, the senators called on the administration to provide workers with adequate pay and benefits, and funding to help states and providers implement best practices in infection control. They said that should also be paired with a national action plan on combating the virus.
The final report released earlier this month from the Coronavirus Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes made 27 recommendations for providers and the federal health officials. Providers said they hoped the report would lead to a better national response to the pandemic from the administration.
The senators also called for more investment in home- and community-based services. (See HCBS-related news below.)
“There will be a time for a reckoning, to reflect on this pandemic and ask what more could have been done. Until that time comes, Congress must act to save lives in nursing homes,” Casey and Wyden concluded.