AHCA’s Parkinson: COVID-19 ‘Almost a Perfect Killing Machine’ for Elderly

The leader of the nation’s largest organization of post-acute and long-term care facilities didn’t mince words about the dangers of the novel coronavirus during a nationally televised interview.

The mortality rate for the 84-and-older population that makes up the vast majority of nursing home residents is well north of 15%, American Health Care Association (AHCA) president and CEO Mark Parkinson said during a Tuesday appearance on CNN — making government and industry calls to suspend most visits to nursing homes critical for Americans to heed.

“The grim reality is that for the elderly, COVID-19 is almost a perfect killing machine,” Parkinson said.

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Parkinson, who served as the governor of Kansas prior to his role as AHCA chief, stressed that for nursing facility residents, the stakes are much higher than the general population.

“In our facilities, the average age is 84, and everyone has underlying medical conditions,” he said. “So when you combine those factors together, we are dealing with perhaps the greatest challenge that we ever have in the history of our sector.”

Parkinson’s appearance came a day after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released guidance severely limiting visits to the nation’s more than 15,000 nursing homes, which AHCA supported in a similar announcement on Tuesday.

“Our recommendation is they should not be visiting,” AHCA chief medical officer David Gifford said, adding that his own parents have told him not to visit them.

The initial outbreak at a skilled nursing facility operated by Life Care Centers of America in Kirkland, Wash. resulted in a significant number of resident deaths, with additional reports of cases at facilities in Washington state.

On CNN, Parkinson emphasized that due to the extremely contagious nature of COVID-19, prevention beats containment as an infection-control strategy for nursing home operators; because even those without symptoms can transmit the infection, erring on the side of caution will be vital.

“We want you to be in constant contact with your loved one,” Parkinson said, encouraging family members to communicate via phone, text, or video chat. “We just don’t want you in the buildings, possibly spreading the virus.”

The AHCA CEO also praised government officials and agencies — including Vice President Pence, CMS, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — for their willingness to work with the nursing home industry during the crisis.

“Every request that we’ve made so far has been accommodated,” Parkinson said.

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