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Nursing Home Reforms Proposed In Wake of COVID-19 Failures

Two U.S. Senators want new nursing home reforms enacted in the wake of widespread failures during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 94,000 nursing home residents and employees in less than a year.

On November 17, U.S. Senators Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican, both from Pennsylvania, issued a joint press release announcing a bipartisan bill intended to address problems at the worst performing elderly care facilities in the country.

The Nursing Home Reform Modernization Act of 2020 (S. 4866) (PDF) would specifically expand the oversight over nursing homes which have been designated as Special Focus Facilities, by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, due to a record of repeated poor performance in inspections and evaluations.

“We have an imperative to help nursing homes residents and workers amid this public health crisis, and we must also improve care quality in nursing facilities—especially those that have a consistent pattern of failing safety and care standards,” Senator Casey said in the press release. “We have an obligation to these residents and workers to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19 and keep them safe.”

Toomey noted that in Pennsylvania, two thirds of deaths linked to COVID-19 involved nursing home or long-term care facility residents.

The bill comes on the heels of a 2019 report by the two Senators, which found persistent problems at nursing homes with poor performance records, including examples of nursing home neglect and nursing home abuse.

It also comes after increasing concerns about how nursing homes have dealt with the coronavirus pandemic.

With more than 1.3 million residents in over 15,000 Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes throughout the United States, significant attention has been placed on COVID-19’s progress through nursing homes, which have been hard hit. Many experts have claimed nursing homes were hit the hardest due to low levels of staffing, a lack of preparation, and the elderly’s increased vulnerability to the effects of the virus.

In August, the U.S Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a report indicating nursing home and long term health care facilities had reported 216,219 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with another 129,338 suspected cases. Of the confirmed cases, a total of 53,196 COVID-19 related deaths were reported.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study in September, highlighting a link between COVID-19 and nursing home quality of care, indicating facilities which scored better in federal ratings have been less likely to experience severe outbreaks at their facilities.

Federal investigators are exploring the possibility of nursing home neglect playing a role in the COVID-19 outbreak, which was first detected in a nursing home in Washington State that became the epicenter for the U.S. pandemic. Investigators say the nursing home failed to respond to the outbreak adequately, placing residents in jeopardy of illness and death.

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