Chairman Neal Statement at Health Subcommittee Hearing on the COVID-19 Nursing Home Crisis
Washington, DC, June 25, 2020
(As prepared for delivery)
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you Chairman Doggett for convening this hearing. I have long been concerned about the health and safety of the millions of Americans who receive care in nursing facilities working to get the Administration to address gaps in oversight and consumer protections. The death toll in nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn to light the many challenges that patients and their families have been facing for years. I wanted to take part in today’s discussion about the desperate need for urgent action.
Nursing homes have been the epicenter of this crisis since the first outbreak at a Washington state facility claimed the lives of 37 residents and staff members.
In total, tens of thousands of lives – of both nursing home residents and staff – have been lost around the nation.
This is nearly a third of all deaths nationwide. And given the lack of adequate testing, these figures are likely gross underestimates.
In my district, lack of staffing and quality issues led to an explosion of cases and deaths at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.
Yesterday’s independent investigation report into this tragedy makes it clear there needs to be accountability. I whole heartedly embrace plans to renovate the Soldier’s home but at the same time ensure it is treated with the same equity as its counterpart in Chelsea. This is a seismic chore and I am willing to help provide federal resources so the state can move forward to rebuild the facilities and create a more transparent, healthy environment for our veterans and those who care for them.
Across the country, staff continue to report they don’t have access to the tests or the personal protective equipment they need, and there have even been reports that PPE sent to nursing homes from the federal government is inadequate for health settings.
Just as the coronavirus has highlighted deeply rooted inequities in our health care system at-large, it has also underscored the vulnerabilities in our nursing homes.
A New York Times investigative report found that more than 60 percent of facilities where at least a quarter of the population was Black or Latinx, the COVID-19 rate of infection was double the rate where Black and Latinx residents made up less than five percent of the population.
This is absolutely devastating, but unfortunately, it isn’t a new problem.
Make no mistake, what’s happening in nursing homes across the country right now is no coincidence, it is the outcome of a longstanding de-regulation campaign the Trump Administration has waged against nursing homes for years. Their policies have exacerbated the already present safety threats to these residents and thousands have died because of it.
The Trump Administration has repeatedly weakened safety standards, that have degraded care overall and made residents more at-risk to infectious disease outbreaks.
While the Administration has taken some action to contain the virus and protect both patients and workers, they have not done enough.
The Heroes Act, which the House passed over a month ago, includes provisions to safeguard quality of nursing home care during the pandemic and strengthen protections for patients and workers. Advocates and health professionals alike agree that the Administration’s inaction earlier this year has worsened the outcomes and fatality rates in nursing homes.
This Committee stands ready to hold this Administration accountable and demand they combat this deadly virus in nursing homes and protect the health and well-being of all Americans.
With that, I yield back the balance of my time.