As humans, there are two paths open to most of us on the road to our final destination.  We will either live a long and full life until it comes to a sudden end or we will survive until we become unable to perform even simple tasks for ourselves.

At that point, we will most likely enter some type of care facility.

That is the reality of life.

Each day we are given new, nation-wide numbers of COVID-19 diagnosed cases and death counts.

What you will not find is a breakdown of how many of the cases are from inside nursing homes.

The federal government has not released a death count in nursing homes nationwide because they do not have one.  One of the reasons is because the Centers for Disease Control only began requiring long-term care facilities to report COVID-19 cases on April 19.

With only 35 states keeping statistics, the numbers still show nursing home residents account for more than one-third of the COVID-19 deaths in the United States.

In West Virginia and Minnesota 80 percent of the deaths were at long term care facilities.

A recent New York newspaper report showed Long Island hospitals sent hundreds of COVID-19 patients to nursing homes and rehab during the peak of the health crisis in March and April.

This was done because of a state order which said nursing homes could not refuse a person simply because they were positive for the virus.

A recent study showed that some elderly patients are still testing positive for as long as six weeks.

More than two million Americans live in long-term care facilities. This is no way to treat people.

These facilities are reporting shortages of test kits and personal protection equipment, such as masks and gowns.  They are understaffed with employees working in multiple facilities which increases the risk of infection.

Some long-term care facilities have already been fined for non-compliance that put residents at risk.  These violations involved missing temperature logs and symptomatic patients who were not tested.

The CDC did issue guidelines limiting visitation, suspending communal dining and group activities.

 Eighteen states, including Alabama, have not released information regarding virus cases in specific nursing homes.

That means residents in Alabama do not know which facilities have cases or the exact number.

The Alabama Department of Public Health cites privacy concerns as a reason not to report cases by facility.  If other states can do it, why can’t we?

AARP is pushing for legislation at the state and federal level to require more transparency around coronavirus cases in nursing homes.  They have called on Congress to address the issues the nursing homes are facing.

The virus is known to be especially lethal to older adults with underlying health conditions.  It can also spread more quickly where people live in confined spaces.

Nursing homes are regulated by the federal government.  State agencies conduct inspections to ensure they comply with federal laws and standards regarding staffing, hygiene, record keeping and residents’ care and supervision.  They must be compliant to be eligible for Medicare and Medicaid payments.

Recently the agency has proposed making changes to its regulations.  The proposed changes include relaxing rules on documenting grievances and investigations.  It would also change the requirement for annual assessments of staff and resources to every two years and allow more than two residents to a room.  One troubling modification would be the requirement for an infection preventionist to be at least part-time to simply spend “sufficient time” on site. 

They say the current regulations are “excessively burdensome”.

This certainly would not be the time for such a change. Residents need more protection, not less.

Infection control is the single most protective measure a facility can provide.

So far, these changes have not been finalized. The AARP and other senior advocates are opposing the proposed changes.

FEMA announced recently it will send shipments of personal protection gear to every nursing home in the United States.  It will contain a one-week supply.  But it will not start until July 4.

Talk about being a day late and a dollar short.

Last week the president called for nursing homes to test all residents and staff over the next two weeks.  But the suggestion came with no financial commitment.

The nursing home industry says testing will have to be done regularly to be effective.  Officials say they need test results in minutes, not days to contain the virus.

Several states have managed to complete the process of nursing home testing on their own.

These facilities house the most vulnerable of our society and they are putting their care in the hands of others.  They deserve the best we can give them.

One day, they will be us.  

Anita McGill is a former publisher of The Sentinel. She can be reached by email at anitamcgill99@gmail.com.

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