What would it take for federal officials to more actively police and demand transparency from U.S. nursing homes?
"If 175,000 deaths doesn't inspire bold action, then nothing will,” Denise Bottcher, the state director of AARP's Louisiana office, told lawmakers Wednesday, citing the COVID-19 death toll of long-term care residents and staff.
Bottcher, whose state accounts for nearly 3,000 of the nation's long-term care COVID-19 deaths, testified during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on nursing homes. It was part of a series of congressional events this week exploring the pandemic's impact on long-term care facilities and older Americans. Long-term care residents and staff have accounted for more than a third of the country's pandemic-related deaths, and more than 1.3 million are confirmed to have been infected.
Bottcher joined several industry experts in testifying that long-standing issues related to oversight and transparency contributed to the pandemic's disproportionate impact on residents and staff. While recent vaccination efforts have contributed to a dramatic drop in nursing home COVID cases and deaths, they said, vaccines aren't enough to address the industry's problems. “Much more is needed to protect nursing home residents,” Bottcher told the Senate panel. “The consequence of not acting is that someone's mother or father dies."
Bottcher highlighted AARP's five-point plan to better protect and serve nursing home residents, staff and their family members, including adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and staffing levels, greater transparency and not granting legal immunity to facilities.
Adelina Ramos, a certified nursing assistant at the Genesis HealthCare center in Greenville, Rhode Island, who also testified, said that COVID-19 killed 20 residents and one nursing assistant at her facility over a roughly one-month span last year. She described how staffing and PPE shortages continue to plague nursing homes across the country. According to AARP's Nursing Home Dashboard, an average of 11 percent of U.S. nursing homes reported a PPE shortage during the four weeks ending Feb. 14. More than 25 percent reported a staff shortage over the same period.