A push for more funding for nursing homes and long-term care facilities to handle the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic is being backed by a range of groups from Republicans in Congress to advocates for older people.
Calls for increased funding come as New York state lawmakers are scrutinizing New York's own nursing home policies amid the pandemic as more than 6,500 residents have died since March. Lawmakers on Monday held a day-long public hearing on the issue, at times featuring pointed exchanges with Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.
Republican Rep. John Katko in a letter on Monday called on Congress to approve more funding for nursing homes. The federal government previously approved $394 million in pandemic aid to the facilities, but in a letter backed by his fellow GOP colleagues from New York, Katko wrote more money is needed.
"While we applaud the initial relief efforts of the CARES Act, the PRF does not provide sufficient funding for skilled nursing facilities and leaves assisted living and other adult care facilities out entirely. In light of the tragic number of COVID-19 deaths in our nation’s nursing and assisted living facilities, we must do more," the letter states.
"To protect the health of our nation’s senior citizens and health professionals, we urge you to include significant funding for all adult care facilities, including skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities, in any future COVID-19 legislation."
Senior adovcates in New York, meanwhile, decried state funding cuts that are on the horizon if federal lawmakers do not approve more aid for the state to offset the sharp decline in tax revenue. Spending cuts of up to 20 percent are possible if the final stimulus legislation does not include state aid.
“The tragic deaths in New York's nursing homes make clear: we need home care workers now more than ever. In the midst of a public health crisis, home care allows those who are aging, ill, or immuno-compromised to live safely and out of nursing homes," said Ilana Berger, the co-director of New York Caring Majority.
"But as demand for home care grows, the state is cutting funding for home care workers instead of investing in this essential sector. New York needs to rapidly expand and invest in our home care workforce to meet the growing needs of our aging population, keep New Yorkers safe during Covid-19, and reinvigorate our economy. It's time to fix our strained long-term care system — and end the massive home care shortage crisis.”
Nursing homes have become a focal point of concern during the pandemic. At issue was a March 25 order that required nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients, a move that has since been partially rescinded to bar hospital discharges.
A second hearing on the issue has been scheduled by the state Senate and Assembly for next Monday.
Critics of Governor Andrew Cuomo have blamed the discharge order for the death toll in the facilities. But a report released by the Department of Health pointed to asymptomatic staff for unknowingly spreading the virus in the facilties in March and April.
That report has been assailed and calls for an independent review of what happened in nursing homes during the height of the pandemic only increased.
Cuomo on Monday approved a measure that partially repealed civil immunity protections for nursing homes during the pandemic.
Advocates like AARP New York had hoped Cuomo and the Legislature would have gone further with the measure, however.
"While AARP is glad Governor Cuomo has partially righted that wrong - which was slipped into the recent state budget with virtually no notice - repealing this unwarranted shield going forward and only for non-COVID-related care simply doesn’t go far enough," said Beth Finkel, the group's state director.
“Our hearts break for the more than 6,300 New York families who lost a loved one to COVID in a nursing home, with many of those residents dying alone while their loved ones were left in the dark.