The plight of nursing home residents and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic will be in the spotlight Wednesday when experts testify at a House subcommittee hearing about its devastating effects and offer suggestions for better conditions in the future. 

The event will be livestreamed on YouTube and the website of the  Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus.

The hearing is a chance to advocate for change to improve the lives of SNF staff and residents, witness Alice Bonner PhD, RN, FAAN, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Monday.

“Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to address empowering CNAs, empowering nurses, direct care teams, recognizing conditions under which people are working,” said the senior advisor for aging at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the chair of the Moving Forward Nursing Home Quality Coalition.

The hearing will remind the public of the more than 200,000 staff and residents of long-term care facilities who have died from the coronavirus since the pandemic began. Despite vaccines and treatments that have stemmed the brutal tide for everyone, SNF staff and residents are still at higher risk than others. Adding to the concerns, only 43% of staff and 57% of residents are up to date on their vaccines.

Systemic, staffing changes sought

Bonner will emphasize the sector can avoid future staffing shortages by making the field more attractive to job candidates.

“The reimbursement issues, the compensation issue, but also how can we build a model of care delivery that better supports teams, that makes people want to go into this line of work?” she said.

“We need a model of care that when people are sitting in classes in high school or right after that, that they think, ‘This could be a career for me, not just a job,’ and we’re not there yet. This needs to be front and center and I think we can do it, but we need Congress to take that on as something they make a priority and work with us.”

David C. Grabowski, PhD, professor of health care policy, Harvard Medical School; Adelina Ramos, Certified Nursing Assistant and 1199NE member, from Greenville, RI; and Jasmine Travers, AGPCNP-BC CCRN PhD RN, assistant professor of nursing, NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, will join Bonner as witnesses before the subcommittee.

Hitting an elusive target

Bonner said quick research on the subcommittee’s members showed some healthcare experience, but nothing pertaining to nursing homes was apparent. 

“We’re going into this wanting to meet them where they are,” she said. “We can speak to them in whatever ways needed. What do they already know and what questions will they ask us.?

“We’re prepared to talk to them about staffing shortages, turnover, reimbursement rates, ownership and transparency, and some legislation that’s currently being discussed in Congress. What’s really important to us is that we establish an ongoing dialogue and that this is not a one-off conversation but the first of many.”