Opinion: Congress Must Act Now to Protect Nursing Home Residents

Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger for Unsplash

More than 1,100 Marylanders have died from COVID-19 in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the past five months.

On behalf of our 870,000 members, AARP Maryland strongly urges Congress to provide funding and support for those most impacted by this deadly virus: the residents and staff of nursing homes, who make up over 40% of COVID-19 deaths nationally.

AARP Maryland has heard from members across the state about their loved ones living in these facilities. Together, we’re calling on Congress to take immediate bipartisan action to implement a five-point plan to save lives and improve, conditions in our nation’s nursing homes:

  1. Ensure regular and prioritized testing of staff and residents, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff and residents and ensure their proper use;
  2. Create transparency around COVID-19 cases and data in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, transfer and discharge rights, how provider relief funds are used, and establish guardrails to ensure funds are used for testing, PPE, staffing, virtual visitation, and other items that directly relate to resident care, wellbeing, prevention and treatment;
  3. Require facilities to provide and facilitate virtual visitation;
  4. Ensure adequate staffing levels and allow long-term care ombudsmen in-person access to do their jobs to advocate for residents; and
  5. Reject federal proposals to grant blanket immunity for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities related to COVID-19.

Although Congress took important steps with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act, hundreds of Americans continue to die every day in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, state veterans homes and other long-term care facilities.

Reports indicate that PPE is still not available or used properly, testing varies widely, and nursing homes and other long-term care facilities often are not given precedence for testing, despite accounting for more than 59,000 COVID-19 deaths.

We need Congress to enact legislation to ensure nursing homes can take care of their residents and that any federal funds—taxpayer dollars—are actually being used to save lives and prevent deaths.

We urge Congress to come together in a bipartisan way to address the urgent needs of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and enact the funding and policy changes needed to help save lives in the next COVID-19 response package.

— JIM CAMPBELL 

The writer is Maryland State President, AARP and served 24 years in the Maryland House of Delegates.