Residents in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been among those hit hardest by COVID-19. Older adults and people who have underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes have been at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness (CDC).
Congregate settings, such as long-term care facilities, pose a high risk of COVID-19 spread due to the proximity of residents and the challenges in implementing effective social distancing measures. Additionally, many of the services provided by care staff require close personal contact, such as eating, dressing, and bathing. More than half of long-term care residents experience some form of cognitive impairment and cannot be left alone to self-isolate. Long-term care facilities across the country have reported not receiving sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to be able to keep their staff and residents safe. Facilities have also experienced serious staffing shortages as workers have gotten sick.
Nationally, more than 20,000 nursing homes residents and workers have died due to COVID-19. In Pennsylvania, where there have been several outbreaks in nursing homes, more than two thirds of COVID-19 fatalities have been associated with nursing homes and personal care homes.
Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) has introduced new legislation that would direct $20 billion to help nursing homes and care facilities to contain the spread of COVID-19. The bill, Nursing Home COVID-19 Protection and Prevention Act, would support costs related to long-term care staffing, testing, and PPE. Funding would also allow facilities to implement stronger infection control protocols. The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue guidance on “cohorting” based on COVID-19 status, separating nursing home residents with COVID-19 from those who have not been exposed to the virus. The legislation would also provide front-line workers in care facilities with overtime pay and paid family and sick leave benefits.
The bill is co-authored by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and has 13 other co-sponsors in the U.S. Senate. A companion bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives. National organizations including AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association, and SEIU, as well as Philadelphia-based organizations including Disability Pride and the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE), have all endorsed the bill.
AARP has also developed a campaign to urge Congress to take immediate action to protect nursing home residents and staff from the spread of COVID-19. AARP’s campaign directs Congress to fund greater testing and PPE in long-term care settings, mandate transparent reporting on COVID-19 cases in care facilities, and to support virtual visitation for residents to be able to stay connected with their loved ones. Supporters can sign on to a letter of support that will go to their representatives in the U.S. Congress.