House coronavirus panel investigates cause of nursing home outbreaks

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WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — Deaths in nursing homes now make up nearly half of the total COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.

Reports from the federal government and healthcare groups show most facilities are still struggling to secure enough protective equipment and tests.

Members of Congress from both parties remain concerned about the frightening impact of the coronavirus on residents and staff, but they have different ideas of who’s to blame.

“It really is a national emergency,” said Bill Sweeney, the SVP of government affairs for AARP. “It’s a disgrace, and we need to do something about it.”

Sweeney stressed many states are also still falling behind on reporting their nursing home cases.

“We still have a long way to go to even understand what the scope of the problem is,” Sweeney said.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-SC, launched an investigation into the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees nursing homes, about its enforcement of health and safety regulations, the collection of data and the distribution of supplies.

“We must ensure more lives are not lost unnecessarily,” Clyburn said.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-LA, sent letters to a group of states asking why they ignored the CMS directive about transferring residents from hospitals.

“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.

While both sides are still waiting for answers, Congress is in the middle of another debate about states granting nursing homes immunity from pandemic-related lawsuits.

Supporters say the measures protect healthcare heroes from nuisance lawsuits, but AARP argues residents and their families deserve answers, too, especially when lives are at risk.

“If there is immunity, then there’s just been no accountability at all for what’s been going on,” Sweeney said. 

As Congress continues to debate what could be the final coronavirus relief package, AARP is pushing for full funding for testing and protective equipment, and virtual visitations for residents and their families.

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