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AARP Urges Congress to Prioritize Funds for Nursing Homes in COVID-19 Relief Package

Bipartisan action needed to improve conditions for residents and staff

A facilitator holds a phone as she's doing a whatsapp video call
Abaca Press/Associated Press

When Congress considers the next legislative package to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, it should adopt and fund AARP's five-point plan to save lives and improve conditions in the nation's nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, the organization says in a Thursday letter to all U.S. senators.

"What is happening in America's long-term care facilities is a national disgrace and an ongoing tragedy that must be addressed now,” Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer, says in the letter. Enacting AARP's proposals “is literally a matter of life and death."

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LeaMond's letter enumerates the AARP recommendations and outlines the organization's support for a number of bills authored by both Democrats and Republicans that would address some of its concerns.

"We are strongly urging Congress and the Administration to provide dedicated funding and strong policy to protect the residents of long-term care facilities, paired with transparency and accountability to ensure that funds are being used to save lives,” LeaMond says.

The COVID pandemic has disproportionately affected nursing home residents and staff, who account for 40 percent of coronavirus deaths in the United States. More than 56,000 residents and employees of America's nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19. “This high death toll is both tragic and unprecedented,” LeaMond says in the letter, noting that nursing home residents comprise less than 1 percent of the U.S. population.

AARP's five-point plan

For months, AARP has been urging Congress to act on five key recommendations:

• Require testing of nursing home staff and residents and provide them with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

• Provide transparency when it comes to information about COVID-19 cases, the transfer and discharge of residents, and how federal relief funds are used, to make sure the money pays for testing, PPE, staffing, virtual visitation and other items that directly relate to patient care and well-being.

• Require facilities to provide and facilitate virtual visitation for residents and their loved ones.

• Ensure adequate staffing levels in facilities and allow long-term care ombudsmen access so they can advocate for residents.

• Reject proposals for COVID-19-related blanket immunity for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Legislation AARP supports

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AARP is supporting three bills in Congress:

• The Nursing Home COVID-19 Protection and Prevention Act (S 3768), sponsored by Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.)

This measure would provide $20 billion to states to support coronavirus testing, PPE and staffing at nursing homes. It also would require data collection and disclosure of COVID cases, and consumer protections related to discharges, resident rights and family notification. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has introduced this legislation in the House (HR 6972).

• Emergency Support for Nursing Homes and Elder Justice Reform Act of 2020 (S 4182), sponsored by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee

This bill would establish “strike teams” to help states respond to new outbreaks; extend COVID-19 reporting requirements through the end of 2020; provide for regular testing and adequate PPE; require daily reporting of cases and deaths; mandate access to virtual visitation and reauthorize parts of the Elder Justice Act to help combat elder abuse.

• ACCESS Act (S 3517), sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Casey and Shelley Capito (R-W.Va.). This bill would provide grants to nursing homes to support virtual visits.