As each day passes, the devastating impact that the pandemic is having on Americans who live and work in nursing homes and other care facilities is becoming more and more clear. According to news reports, more than 16,000 COVID-19 deaths -- about a quarter of the national total -- have been residents and staff of long-term care facilities. This is appalling, and a persistent lack of transparency is compounding the anxiety of family members who are unable to visit their loved ones. Until recently, there was no federal requirement for nursing homes to report coronavirus outbreaks and COVID-19 deaths, making it impossible to understand the true scope of the problem and what steps need to be taken to protect residents and staff.
AARP is urging federal and state policymakers to take action now to:
- Ensure that facilities are able to provide testing and have the personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep residents and employees safe.
- Require daily reporting of facilities with confirmed cases to help manage the public health response and keep families up-to-date.
- Make sure that families get the information they need about their loved ones including knowing their rights when residents are transferred or discharged because of COVID-19.
- Help residents stay connected with their families through video chats and phone calls. The CARES Act relief bill included virtual visitation for federal prisoners, but there were no similar provisions for seniors in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.
- Ensure adequate staffing and funding levels to meet the needs of long-term care residents and appropriately recruit, train, retain, and compensate care workers.
Fortunately, we’re starting to see some movement on these critical issues. A number of states have taken steps including public reporting of nursing homes and assisted living facilities with COVID-19 cases, increased testing, more PPE, hazard pay for staff, and mobilizing the state National Guard units to support facilities. At the federal level, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is requiring nursing homes to report confirmed cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff as well as notify residents and families. In Congress, the ACCESS Act (S. 3517/H.R. 6487) focuses on funding and supporting virtual visitation in nursing homes. But, there is so much more to do.
AARP is also arming families with the tools and information to help keep their loved ones safe. In consultation with experts, we developed a list of six key questions to ask about a nursing home or other care facility (there’s even a video version). This and more are housed on a dedicated section of our website: aarp.org/nursinghomes.
The threat of COVID-19 means nursing home residents generally can’t have in-person visitors. But it does not mean families can’t have answers. It’s time for full disclosure and immediate action to protect the residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.