NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – More than 175,000 residents and staff members in nursing homes have died during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Senate committee took a deep dive Wednesday into the root causes of the deaths to make sure the facilities are better protected against future public health emergencies.
“My residents deserve so much better than what we were able to provide for them with few staff and resources,” said Adelina Ramos, a certified nursing assistant at a Rhode Island nursing home.
Ramos told Senate Finance Committee members the current vaccination rates in facilities give her hope but can’t make up for the lives lost.
“The physical and emotional trauma this pandemic caused can’t be cured with a shot in the arm,” Ramos said. “On my worst day of the pandemic, one of my residents was dying and wanted me to sit and hold her hand, but I couldn’t stay because I had 20-plus residents who also needed me.”
Ramos stressed her industry faces a nationwide staffing shortage. Nursing home advocates, like Dr. David Gifford with the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living said more must be done to solve the problem.
“The long-term care community was left behind, forgotten and even blamed,” Gifford said.
Gifford told lawmakers a longstanding issue, Medicaid underfunding, makes it difficult for nursing homes to compete with hospitals for staff, but Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, said the weekly emergency unemployment benefits Congress passed during the pandemic have also contributed.
“It just makes sense,” Cassidy said. “If you’re going to make more money not working, why do you work? We’ve got to be honest about this. If we’re searching for solutions, we’ve got to be honest, and that seems to be part of the honest answers.”
Other nursing home advocates, like Louisiana AARP Director Denise Bottcher, urged Congress to require PPE, regular testing and daily reporting of cases and deaths, along with more accountability when facilities fail to provide adequate care.
“If 175,000 deaths doesn’t inspire bold action than nothing will,” Bottcher said. “While there may be a sense of relief of vaccines rolling out and infection rates declining, much more is needed to protect nursing home residents.”
However, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, said it will take time to catch up from the Trump administration’s delayed response.
“This was a systemic nationwide failure,” Wyden said. “And it will be challenging to fix.”