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AARP AARP States Texas Advocacy

Texans are Dying in Nursing Homes, Congress Must Act

As the coronavirus outbreak rips into nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, Texans are losing loved ones at alarming rates and others are rightfully worried about how their family members and friends are being cared for.

Over the past few months, AARP has been collecting personal accounts from people across the country who have loved ones in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Thousands have poured in, including many from Texas.

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We’ve heard from family members who have been kept in the dark about the wellbeing and care of their loved one. Others have been deeply concerned by the shortage of staffing and adequate personal protective equipment. And tragically, some have lost loved ones not always knowing why because they were never tested for COVID-19.

In these facilities, more than 55,000 Americans have died – afraid and alone, often without a single family member by their side. Each death is a harrowing and heartbreaking story; each story calls out for action.

Kenneth Drummonds, a retired school principal and coach, died alone on April 28 in a facility near his family’s home in Sherman. He was 92 and had been hospitalized six weeks earlier. His wife of 37 years, Susie Drummonds, a retired schoolteacher, believes the isolation destroyed his will to live. “I’m not sure he was ever able to understand why were weren’t there with him,” she said.

The COVID-19 death toll in these facilities is a national disgrace. Congress should have seen this coming. The first major outbreak of COVID-19 on U.S. soil was in a nursing home—first reported Feb. 29 in Washington State. It was immediately clear long-term care facilities would be a hotbed for the virus, weeks before states began locking down.

No state is doing a good enough job to protect residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities against COVID-19. In Texas, more than 40 percent of all COVID-19 deaths are among residents and staff of these facilities. As the virus infiltrates these facilities, Congress must take swift, bipartisan action to stop the deaths.

Congress must ensure that all facilities: regularly test staff and residents; have and correctly use personal protective equipment (PPE); publicly report COVID-19 cases and deaths daily; and facilitate virtual visits between residents and their families. Also, Congress must reject proposals to grant broad legal immunity to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Understanding and containing the spread of COVID-19 requires ongoing, regular testing of all long-term care residents and workers. With rigorous testing, nursing homes can identify cases and prevent the spread of the virus.

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AARP Texas State Director Tina Tran

Steps must be taken to ensure all facilities have a sufficient supply of PPE, like masks, gowns, gloves, and face shields, to protect workers and residents. And facilities must stiffen protocols for infection control. A recent Government Accountability Office report found more than 80 percent of nursing homes were cited for infection prevention failures – before the pandemic. If facilities ignored basic procedures like handwashing before an outbreak, they stood no chance of keeping residents safe from the coronavirus.

Families and the public need the facts about their loved ones and the facilities where they live. We must see to it that nursing homes and other long-term care facilities publicly report the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among residents and staff daily. Complete transparency will help public health officials direct resources and allow residents, prospective residents, and their families to make informed decisions about their lives.

Lastly, Congress must stop efforts to provide long-term care facilities with immunity related to COVID-19. Long-term care providers must remain responsible for any negligent actions that fail to protect the health—and lives—of residents and staff. Litigation is an option of last resort, and no family member who has lost a loved one due to neglect or abuse pursues this course of action lightly. Now is not the time to strip nursing home residents and families of their rights—and to let nursing homes off the hook for abuse, neglect, and even death.

Our mothers, fathers, grandparents, and spouses – who worked hard and built this country—are dying in record numbers. They are dying scared, alone and away from their loved ones, often before their time. Congress must act urgently to support nursing home residents, staff and families to stem the loss of life.

Tina Tran is the state director of AARP Texas, which serves more than 2.2 million members age 50 and older in Texas.

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