Select Committee Briefing Confirms Urgent Need for Federal Action to Protect Nursing Homes from Coronavirus
(Washington, DC – June 12, 2020) Yesterday, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, held a video briefing to examine the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on nursing home residents and workers, including the deaths of more than 40,000 Americans in nursing homes across the country.
During the briefing, Chairman Clyburn called on the Trump Administration to take action to protect nursing homes, stating: “[W]e need the federal government to ensure our nursing homes have enough testing and personal protective equipment to stop the virus from spreading. That means providing coordination and resources—not just leaving it up to the states.”
Dr. David Grabowski of Harvard Medical School explained, “Rather than pushing the logistics and costs of testing and PPE to states and nursing homes, the federal government needs to own this issue. The federal government should set a consistent policy across all U.S. nursing homes and then provide states and nursing homes with the resources to achieve it.” He concluded, “The buck has to stop there.”
Alison Lolley, whose mother died of the coronavirus in a nursing home in Monroe, Louisiana, told the Committee: “My family was robbed. Mama was trapped in a petri dish and we were shut out. Mama died alone and our family will forever be scarred by this tragedy.” She urged the Committee, “Please reform this industry, properly fund this industry, and do it quickly. Let’s not let my mother die in vain.”
Additional briefers included Chris Brown, a Certified Nursing Assistant at a nursing home in Chicago; Eric Carlson, Directing Attorney at Justice in Aging; and Phil Kerpen, President of American Commitment.
Briefers provided the following additional information:
The Trump Administration failed to provide nursing homes with testing and protective equipment.
- Asked by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney whether the federal government has done enough to stem the outbreak in nursing homes, Dr. Grabowski replied: “Absolutely not, the guidance was not sufficient. I’ve actually called it ‘non-guidance guidance’ in that there was no teeth or dollars behind it. And if you don’t put logistics, if you don’t put costs into this guidance, if it’s just simply a theoretical set of guidance for the nursing homes and for the states; it’s not actually going to happen.” He concluded, “I would have liked to have seen federal leadership.”
- Dr. Grabowski stated that nursing homes in many states still “can’t get testing fast enough” and “are really struggling to find the tests.” He explained, “The federal government should’ve put the testing in place and actually paid for it.” He stated, “Until we get rapid and accurate testing for all staff and residents, we won’t be able to contain COVID.”
- Mr. Carlson explained that nursing homes face serious shortages of PPE and that “shipments from FEMA have been a bit late and inadequate.” He also explained that “the lack of federal coordination” has “impeded facilities’ ability to identify infected persons and to provide care.”
Nursing home workers need better wages and working conditions.
- Mr. Brown said he was not given inadequate protective equipment in the for-profit nursing home where he works, and he resorted to wearing a garbage bag in place of a gown. He also said he was “given a single use mask” despite extensive contact with residents, and said “Some nursing home workers resort to saving their masks in paper bags as a way to ration them.”
- When asked by Congressman Jamie Raskin whether low wages at for-profit facilities lead to staffing shortages, Mr. Brown said, “We’re calling these people heroes, that’s not going to cut it.” He called for raising nursing home worker pay, explaining, “I can go to McDonalds and flip a burger, and I can make more than I’m making … doing the back-breaking work of taking care of someone’s family member.”
- Dr. Grabowski explained: “Staff are frightened given the lack of COVID testing and personal protective equipment or PPE, and for good reason. New federal COVID data suggests nearly 700 staff nationally have died from COVID. Facilities are experiencing severe staff shortages as many individuals are unable or unwilling to work in these conditions. We hear a lot about the heroes working in hospitals, but individuals working in nursing homes, like Mr. Brown, are making close to minimum wage and risking their health; they are heroes too.”
The Administration needs to hold for-profit nursing homes accountable.
- Ms. Lolley stated that the for-profit nursing home where her mother died “was not prepared to handle the crisis due to excessive turnover in staff and a lack of established disaster protocols.”
- Mr. Carlson explained that the coronavirus outbreak “emphasizes the need for federal policy to have accountability from nursing facilities.” He noted: “Nursing facilities are heavily funded through Medicare and Medicaid. It’s the highest level of reimbursement by far for the nursing facility industry. And in return for that, it’s important that there be accountability, that the money go to direct care staff.”