FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 15, 2020
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the federal agency than runs the nation’s Medicare program has waived longstanding resident protections and promised more money to nursing facilities. Congress has already increased payments to facilities and promises more. A crisis brings out the best in many people, including health care providers, both professional and paraprofessional, who literally put their lives on the line every day to take care of the sickest and frailest among us. But in others, a crisis brings out the worst. For these, the pandemic gives them virtually free reign to operate, with even fewer rules, fewer inspections, fewer staff, and fewer relatives visiting.
Forty-seven people died in the outbreak in a Kirkland, Washington nursing home, the first known “hot spot” in the U.S. Fourteen deaths were recently reported in a New Jersey facility. So far, coronavirus cases have been identified in thousands of nursing homes across the U.S. and there are likely many more infections occurring behind closed doors. Some states are reporting that more than half of their facilities have residents infected with coronavirus. We may never know because the CDC has announced that it is not keeping track of deaths in these facilities.
Most of the health care provided in these homes is funded by Medicare and Medicaid. Until recently, facilities choosing to be eligible for federal payments have been required to meet federal standards of care and have been monitored and rated for quality. Not all these facilities were providing high quality care before these recent changes. Far from it. And in fact, infection control is the number one problem occurring in nursing homes nationwide, with nearly two out of three facilities cited for problems in their infection control and prevention practices. Last summer, Medicare regulators proposed easing rules that required infection control personnel to be in every facility. So now instead of stepping up oversight in the face of this pandemic – one that disproportionately kills medically fragile older people – rules are being relaxed and waivers are being granted that make it easier for nursing homes to skimp on service and make things more precarious for vulnerable residents.
Nursing homes across the country are going on “lock down,” blocking visitation of residents by caring family members. In some nursing homes, family members often show up to feed and help perform and oversee the daily routines their relatives need. What happens now to those frail elderly people who lose these family caregivers, especially when chronically short-staffed facilities have even fewer staff during the pandemic?
Finally, nursing homes believe they have been given the right by the government to transfer patients at will – requiring no consultation from family or residents themselves. They will be able to shift residents into newly created facilities that will separate those testing positive with Covid-19 from the rest of the population. A big question remains whether these newly opened facilities will merely segregate and hold people with the disease or provide real care.
Advocates are calling for another bill that will fill some of the gaps in service for the 1.3-1.4 million vulnerable Americans who live in nursing facilities. Any bill must meet these three requirements:
- First, accurate and meaningful information about which nursing facilities have residents and staff with confirmed cases of coronavirus needs to be made public. The absence of clear, comprehensive, and truthful information creates more fear and anxiety for residents and families and the public in general.
- Second, tracking cases of the coronavirus in nursing facilities is important so that essential resources – staff, personal protective equipment – can be sent to those facilities with the greatest need.
- Finally, government needs to take responsibility to make sure that all facilities – newly created facilities and existing facilities – have the tests, staff, supplies, food, and equipment that they need.
Join Us Live This Week and Next for Updates on COVID-19 and Nursing Homes
Join us for a pair of joint Webinars from the Center for Medicare Advocacy, Consumer Voice, Long Term Care Community Coalition & Justice in Aging:
This two-part examination of some of the major issues impacting nursing home residents right now at the national and state levels will begin with an overview and discussion about the changing landscape of federal actions, as well as advocacy that our collective organizations have been engaged in with CMS and Congress. Part II will continue the look at issues affecting residents and include example of State-level advocacy that are currently underway to influence state action and protect residents.