Midsection of female doctor with swab test sample during COVID-19 crisis. Female medical professional is holding test tube in hospital. She is wearing protective suit.
Credit: Morsa Images/Getty Images Plus

A top clinician with the nation’s largest nursing home association fought back this week  against a highly critical report focusing on providers’ response to the deadly winter 2020 COVID-19 surge and the role ownership played. 

“To then grade nursing homes on deaths during this window of time is disrespectful to the caregivers who put their lives on the line to protect residents, who are like family to them,” wrote David Gifford, M.D., geriatrician and chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living. 

Gifford’s comments came in an op-ed published Wednesday by USA Today in response to the newspaper’s series, “Dying for Care,” an analysis of the eldercare business. The investigation highlighted a five-month surge from October 2020 through February 2021, when about 71,000 nursing home residents died from COVID-19.  

At that time, providers were still pleading with national and local leaders for public health resources including testing and personal protective equipment, without much help, Gifford argued. In comparison, facilities now have “clearer federal guidance” on testing and isolation protocols and the additional protections of vaccines and treatments that didn’t exist before. 

He also noted that studies have consistently found nursing home outbreaks are primarily linked to the virus’ spread in the surrounding community. 

“The truth is that COVID-19 viciously targets our nation’s most vulnerable – the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions – precisely the individuals who reside in America’s nursing homes,” he wrote. 

Gifford argued that providers have been committed to learning from the pandemic. 

Suggesting that frontline workers didn’t do enough to prevent the deaths, he wrote, “fails to recognize the nature of this virus as well as how public health officials neglected to direct resources to where the most vulnerable people were living. It’s time we stop placing blame on nursing homes for a once-in-a-century global pandemic.”