Lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee will be taking a deep dive today behind COVID-19’s deadly impact on nursing home residents and employees.

The committee is set to hold a hearing highlighting deficiencies in nursing home safety and emergency preparedness standards that were exacerbated by the coronavirus public health crisis, according to a committee spokesman speaking on background. The hearing is an effort by the committee to ensure facilities are better protected against future public health emergencies, the spokesman added. 

It also will look into how the federal government’s “slow response” failed the sector on an “unprecedented scale,” the spokesman said. Approximately 174,000 residents and staff members in nursing homes have died throughout the pandemic, according to various sources, including the AARP. 

While American Health Care Association Chief Medical Officer David Gifford, M.D., is slated to testify on providers’ behalf, the hearing also will feature testimony from state and regional representatives with AARP Louisiana, the Tennessee Long-Term Care Ombudsmen office and the New England district of the Service Employees International Union. 

In addition, Government Accountability Office Health Care Director John Dicken and University of Chicago health sciences professor R. Tamara Konetzka, Ph.D., also will testify.

Konetzka told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News that her testimony will focus on reviewing evidence-base findings and recommendations from researchers during the pandemic. 

“Given the panel, I expect there to be significant discussion of the roles of staffing and of infection control,” she said. She added that several senators are also very interested in issues concerning racial and ethnic disparities.

Providers are expected to be put on the defensive much of the time. In a statement, Gifford said the association hopes today’s hearing is the “start of a meaningful discussion on strengthening long-term care.” 

“We are eager to discuss the lessons learned and how we can work together to transform long-term care moving forward,” Gifford said.  

“COVID-19 has affected every aspect of long-term care. The age and underlying health conditions of our residents, the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of the virus, and the lack of prioritization for critical resources at the outset led to tens of thousands losing their lives,” he added. “We must ensure that the tragedies we have experienced never happen again.”