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AARP Is Fighting the Coronavirus Crisis in Nursing Homes by Demanding More Transparency

We've prodded government into making changes, but there's plenty more to do

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Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

The lack of transparency from the nation's nursing homes is nothing short of outrageous. Thousands of them have experienced a coronavirus outbreak, fueling fear and heartbreak for the families and loved ones of those who have succumbed to the virus and those who have been infected.

During a recent AARP tele-town hall on the nursing home crisis, a caller told us she couldn't get daily updates from the facility where her brother lives. Another was alarmed to learn coronavirus patients are being transferred into the nursing home where her friend lives. One caller asked if she could bring her 92-year-old mother home, in hopes of eluding the coronavirus spreading through her mom's long-term care facility.

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AARP is fighting hard to protect nursing home residents and their loved ones as the pandemic continues. On the national level, we've insisted that every facility with coronavirus cases must quickly make that information available to help direct the response effort.

We've made some progress: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) — which regulates nursing homes — announced recently that it will require nursing homes to alert residents, their families and the federal government of new cases, though the details of how that will work are still unclear. We've also pushed governors whose states have not shared the names of facilities with coronavirus cases to do so, and several have listened, including in Florida, Illinois and New Jersey.

We've pushed back against state plans to transfer coronavirus patients from hospitals to nursing homes. And with bans on visitors (except for end-of-life situations), we're pressing for nursing homes to arrange virtual visits between residents and their loved ones. Not only will this allow them to make care decisions together but it will also help reduce social isolation, which can mean the difference between life and death for many older Americans.

While these are critical steps, more needs to be done. That's why we are also advocating for more access to testing for nursing home residents and personal protective equipment for staff. And we're talking to Congress and state legislatures about increasing staffing levels at many facilities, which has long been a problem.

Meanwhile, if you have a loved one in a nursing home, we've developed a list of six questions you should ask during the pandemic to help safeguard them.

We all know that COVID-19 is especially dangerous for older people, particularly those with underlying conditions. Those living in close quarters are even more susceptible. But there's no reason nursing home residents should be made more vulnerable because they and their loved ones weren't kept informed or provided an easy way to stay in touch.

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