House coronavirus panel examines impact on nursing home residents, staff

Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — Nursing homes and other care centers for the elderly have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest figures from the federal government show nearly 32,000 nursing home residents and hundreds of nursing home staff have died from the virus, and those numbers continue to grow as more facilities report their cases. 

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis held a briefing Thursday to examine the impact of the crisis on residents, employees and their families.

“Mama died alone, and our family will forever be scarred by this tragedy,” Alison Lolley, the daughter of a Louisiana nursing home resident, told lawmakers.

Lolley said better information about the outbreak may have helped the thousands of families like hers save their loved ones.

“Mama was trapped in a petri dish, and we were shut out,” she said.

Nursing home employees like Chris Brown, a CNA from Illinois, said with no policies to notify him of COVID-19 patients and little available protective equipment, he has also felt exposed to unnecessary risk.

“If I become sick, how can I take care of somebody else?,” Brown said.

Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-SC, who chairs the subcommittee, called for a national plan to acquire and distribute test kits and protective equipment.

“Their deaths represent a failure of our nation to protect our people,” Clyburn said. “We must ensure more lives are not lost unnecessarily.”

However, Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-LA, argued the high death toll in nursing homes comes down to a handful of states ignoring a federal directive.

“The decision of several governors to essentially mandate that COVID-positive patients go back to their nursing homes, even if those nursing homes were incapable of properly treating them, ended up being a death sentence,” Scalise said.

Scalise sent letters to the governors of seven states to see what led to their decisions and asked his colleagues on the subcommittee to join him.

Clyburn said the panel will also look into staffing shortages at nursing homes and how Congress could better support those who are still on the payroll.

According to Phil Kerpen, the president of American Commitment who also testified at the briefing, deaths in nursing homes now make up about half of the total COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.

To track cases at facilities in your state, visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website.

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