As drafts of a renewed coronavirus relief package continue to be debated in and around the White House, the many millions left languishing in nursing homes and elderly care facilities – along with their loved ones forced to communicate with them from afar – are urging swift action.
According to the American Health Care Association (AHCA), almost all the initial $175 billion U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funds from the CARES Act – which was signed into law by President Trump in late March – has been spent, and yet coronavirus – officially termed COVID-19 – cases in at least 22 states continues to ascend, ahead of the already daunting cold and flu season.
“HHS has announced distribution plans for 80 percent of the $175 billion Provider Relief Fund created by the CARES Act. Health care providers, including nursing homes, will need additional resources to continue its response to the COVID pandemic heading into the cold and flu season, which provides new challenges,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), told Fox News. “COVID-19 disproportionately impacts the elderly – many of whom already have preexisting health conditions and chronic diseases – and the dedicated staff who care for them.”
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The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) has thus requested an additional $100 billion from the HHS Provider Relief Fund, which is accessible for all health care providers impacted by the novel pathogen, and asked “that a sizeable portion of the fund be dedicated to helping nursing homes and assisted living communities to acquire resources associated with protecting vulnerable residents and staff from the virus, including constant testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and staff support.”
Parkinson is urging Congress to provide the additional billions to protect the most susceptible. As of Friday, the notion of further stimulus and relief funding was still the topic of political fodder in Washington.
Parkinson emphasized that the PPE supply shortages and delays in obtaining test results in the first six months of the pandemic “put nursing homes at a serious disadvantage” in keeping COVID out of their facilities.
“Funding from HHS has helped nursing homes pay for additional staffing, secure vital PPE equipment, and conduct regular testing of residents and staff in response to the COVID pandemic,” he lamented. “We need Congress to prioritize our vulnerable seniors and their caregivers in nursing homes and assisted living communities by passing another COVID-funding package before they leave town for the elections.”
Indeed, a prominent portion of coronavirus deaths have occurred in nursing homes and assisted living facilities nationwide – a chilling consequence of the disease, which is known to be especially lethal to adults over the age of 60, and with underlying health ailments. Furthermore, it can rapidly tear through converging, indoor dwellings and be passed on by workers who move from room and room.
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Ever since the contagion took hold in the United States in early 2020, experts have contended that elderly care facilities do not have the adequate gear, testing mechanisms, and staff to aptly halt or prevent the infection from infiltrating.
Statistics released in June underscored that such facilities account for 42 percent of coronavirus-induced deaths, and at that point, attributed to around 7 percent of the U.S. infection rate. A report unveiled in August by the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living revealed that during the single week of July 26, some 9,715 people in nursing homes spanning the country contracted coronavirus. That was a marked uptick from the 8,667 who tested positive the previous week and the 5,538 who did so the week of June 28, the lowest number since the pandemic began.
Thousands of fragile people in such care homes are still being infected, and scores succumbing to the virus every single week. Since the start of the pandemic, these facilities have been deemed a “major driver” in infections and death rates across the entire populous.
In at least 22 states, long-term facilities have enumerated for over half of total facilities – and in some states, that figure is well over the 50 percent line.
According to Healthline, researchers in Massachusetts tallied that about 63 percent of all coronavirus deaths happened in elderly care centers, while nursing homes “accounted for 81 percent of COVID-19 deaths in both Minnesota and Rhode Island at the time as well as 71 percent in Connecticut and 70 percent in New Hampshire.”
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As these deaths continue to rise, medical professionals in these facilities are struggling to take care of a population that is most easily victimized by the pandemic.
Just this week, the Ohio Department of Health reported that more than 3,133 patients of Ohio nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have died with coronavirus this year, with 87 new deaths reported in the weekly.
“This means that 63% of the 4,970 coronavirus deaths reported by the state by the state through Wednesday have involved such patients,” Cleveland.com noted.
In addition, it was also documented this week that 52 percent of residents (56 individuals) at a single Tennessee nursing home tested positive for COVID-19 – as well as some 23 employees. And at an Albany, Indiana nursing home, 4 more deaths were added to the open tab in just the past few days.
Such anecdotes are endless.
The haunting rash of fatalities striking the elderly has already ignited legal action – most strikingly in New York State, once the epicenter of the unique infection.
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Last month, the Empire Center for Public Policy filed a suit against the state’s Health Department with allegations that officials endeavored to “hide” coronavirus death data as it pertained to nursing homes. The Albany-based think tank claimed that it issued a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) on August 3, seeking statistics, and was later informed it could not provide the information until November 5, incidentally two days after the 2020 elections.
“The state Health Department is illegally withholding information about the number of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 in hospitals so it can intentionally undercount fatalities and tout New York’s response to the pandemic,” the lawsuit, which has been dismissed by Gov. Cuomo’s office as a “publicity stunt,” alleges.
Peter Pitts, President of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, and a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Associate Commissioner pegged much of the blame when it comes to increased funding on the “Democrat leadership” for refusing to pass “a ‘clean’ bill that isn’t loaded down with non-pandemic related issues.” But he also stressed that while provider funding is a key aspect of the Federal response to coronavirus, “it’s not only a question of ‘more money.'”
“It is what that money is used for. It must also be used to raise the pay of non-medical staff — and this is particularly true for nursing homes. Senior facilities are not raising the pay of non-medical professionals – meaning caregivers,” Pitts explained. “If we want Americans living in senior communities to be safe and well looked after, the onus lies on the states to better and more equitably share the increases in federal funding. Unfortunately, on the state level, this has not been a priority.”
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From his purview, early in the pandemic, state authorities – specifically Governor Cuomo – allowed seniors recovering from COVID-19 to return to their senior centers. This was a decision largely driven by expediency, that is, the cost of hospital care and the need to free-up hospital beds.
“This proved to be a tragic mistake as the virus then whipped through senior homes like wildfire, killing tens of thousands. We will never get those lives back,” Pitts added. “We must never allow expediency to displace sound public health practice. Funding from the Cares Act has certainly gone to address shortages of medical staff at senior centers — but not in a way that helps to achieve better, more appropriate staffing levels on the patient level. This is malpractice at best and murder by neglect at worst.”