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Senators Propose $20 Billion To Help Nursing Homes Combat COVID-19 Outbreaks

Legislation introduced by several Democratic Senators would provide $20 billion in aid designed to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes throughout the U.S.

Recent reports indicate nearly 30,000 nursing home residents and staff have died due to COVID-19 infections or related complications nationwide, and more than 153,000 have been infected in nearly 8,000 facilities nationwide. The nursing home deaths account for a third of the 90,000 COVID-19 fatalities throughout the country, highlighting the dire risks facing residents of long-term care facilities.

On May 18, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat from Nevada, issued a press release announcing the Nursing Home COVID-19 Protection and Prevention Act (PDF), which she co-sponsored with Senators Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania; the latter two of whom initially sponsored the bill.

“To contain the spread of COVID-19, through strategies like cohorting and surge teams, states, nursing homes, intermediate care facilities and psychiatric hospitals need an adequate supply of testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) and increased funding to support workers with premium, hazard and overtime pay as well as paid family and sick leave benefits,” the bill states.

To do this, the senators propose providing $20 billion in emergency funding to the states, as well as U.S. territories and native American tribes. This money would be used to support nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals and intermediate care facilities’ efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 among their facilities.

In addition to funding, the bill calls for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create new guidance on cohorting; separating infected residents from healthy ones. This could include policies like allowing nursing homes to use non-traditional buildings, like hotels and dorms, to house infected or healthy residents.

The legislation also calls for HHS to collect and publish all data on COVID-19 illnesses and deaths in nursing homes nationwide.

“This legislation will give nursing home residents and their loved ones the peace of mind that Congress is doing all we can to ensure that nursing and long-term care facilities across the state have the protective equipment, testing capability and workforce they need to safely operate through this pandemic,” Senator Masto says in her press release.

State Efforts To Combat COVID-19 Nursing Home Outbreaks

The federal legislation comes in addition to efforts put forward by a growing number of states to combat the problems with COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes.

Both New York and Florida have announced new measures requiring more stringent COVID-19 nursing home testing, which is intended to detect cases as soon as they appear, in order to prevent the virus from sweeping through whole facilities.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo recently ordered all nursing homes to test staff twice a week for coronavirus. Failure to do so will result in the loss of the facility’s operating license. Regulations in the state also prevents hospitals from discharging COVID-19 patients to a nursing facility until the patient has tested negative for the infection.

If a nursing home is deemed unable to provide proper treatment and support for a recovering resident, the patient would be transferred to the care of the state, which now has available hospital bed capacity for these situations as cases have leveled off.

Similarly, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration issued emergency rules for nursing homes and assisted living facilities regarding COVID-19 which require every nursing home and assisted living facility in the state to allow entry for members of the Florida Department of Health for infection prevention control, which may include coronavirus testing of on-duty and off-duty staff.

Officials warn the outbreaks among the nation’s nursing homes is a consequence of nursing home neglect in long-term care facilities. Nursing homes face chronic under-staffing and a lack of preparation among staff for pandemic care.

COVID-19 has infected more than 1.5 million Americans leading to nearly 90,000 deaths. Globally the coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 4 million people and has led to nearly 300,000 deaths. There is no known cure or vaccine.

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