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Coronavirus: How many more nursing home residents will die before the Senate acts?

Written by Alex Lawson
Not only has the US not been able to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, it has allowed COVID-19 to kill tens of thousands of vulnerable older adults and people with disabilities living in nursing homes. How many more nursing home residents will die before the Senate acts?

Here are the numbers: Every hour eighteen nursing home residents die. Every week, more than 3,000 nursing home residents die. In the last five months, more than 50,000 nursing home residents have died. When will this plague end?

Many of these mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors would still be alive today were it not for COVID-19. They’d still be alive today were it not for the failure of US leadership in containing the novel coronavirus. They’d still be alive today were it not for their nursing homes’ mishandling of the novel coronavirus.

Nursing home residents represent more than one in ten COVID-19 cases. Yet, four in ten people who die of COVID-19 are nursing home residents. In some states, nursing home residents represent more than half of COVID-19 deaths. And, these are the reported cases. Lord knows how many of these deaths are going unreported.

Tens of thousands of nursing home COVID-19 deaths were preventable. Everyone knew that nursing home residents were at especial risk because of their age and compromised health. Still today, with deaths skyrocketing, our federal government is failing to act.

President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) won’t ensure that nursing homes have the money and resources needed so that their residents and staff are safe and healthy. They are focused on helping wealthy corporations, wealthy hospitals, and wealthy executives, including nursing home executives. The nursing home industry has a powerful lobbying machine that continues to be successful at protecting nursing home profits rather than nursing home people.

Nursing home owners, including many private equity firms, take government money for nursing home care to benefit their investors, leaving nursing homes without the funding to properly care for their residents or pay their staff. Nursing homes have been given immunity from prosecution on many grounds, notwithstanding preventable deaths among their residents and staff.

The US House of Representatives has passed the HEROES Act, which would protect nursing home staff and residents. The HEROES Act allocates money for testing and personal protective equipment. It sets aside funds for COVID-19 only nursing homes to isolate and contain the spread of the virus. These measures would help prevent nursing home residents from dying needlessly from COVID-19.

To be sure, beyond the HEROES Act, more must be done to protect older and disabled Americans, to ensure they have a good quality of life and can live with dignity. They need better quality care in nursing homes, and they need expanded Social Security benefits. For our collective health and our collective conscience, we must insist on that.

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