Free dinners and the designation of “hero” may help brighten the moment for caregivers on the frontlines in skilled nursing facilities.
But one worker at a nursing home in Connecticut was adamant that when it comes to fighting COVID-19 in the SNF setting, these are not a substitute for necessary resources such as testing and personal protective equipment (PPE).
“I’m still being asked to work more than 40 hours, and we still do not have enough PPE,” Melinda Haschak, a licensed practical nurse at the Regalcare at Southport in Fairfield, Conn. said in prepared testimony before a virtual hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday. “While I appreciate the donations of food and the occasional pizza party we receive, my coworkers and I don’t need a pizza party — we need PPE.”
The hearing examined the impact of COVID-19 in nursing homes, where the global pandemic has taken a particularly brutal toll; according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the death toll sits at around 30,700, as of the most recent update, released Thursday. Other analyses have estimated even higher numbers.
The discussion came after a June 11 briefing by the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, part of the House Oversight Committee, where another frontline caregiver emphasized that PPE shortages and staffing struggles were a problem even prior to COVID-19.
“The only thing COVID did was rip the doors open,” Chris Brown, a CNA working in Chicago, told the committee, stressing the fact that staffing shortages and PPE shortages were a problem in nursing homes prior to the pandemic. “It blasted the doors open of a system that was already failing.”
Dr. David Grabowski of Harvard Medical School, who testified at both the June 11 briefing and the June 25 hearing, emphasized again on Thursday that the ongoing crisis in nursing homes needs to be addressed at the federal level both in written testimony and in responses to questions from representatives.
He argued for nationalizing the production of PPE and for the government to take charge of testing, both financially and in terms of setting consistent policies for testing at the national level.
“The federal government should implement and cover universal testing of staff and residents in all U.S. nursing homes,” he said in written testimony. “And this can’t be a one-off. We need a surveillance program that regularly tests staff and residents in order to identify new cases as they emerge.”
As in the Oversight briefing, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s March 25 order — since rescinded — to send patients from the hospital to the SNF without testing negative for COVID-19 came under fire, primarily from Rep. Tom Reed, a New York Republican.
But Rep. Bill Pascrell, Democrat of New Jersey, decried the breakdown of the realities of COVID-19 along party lines in his allotted speaking time, and called on CMS to provide answers about its assessment of nursing homes.
“These guys have gotten away with murder, and we’re here talking about partisan politics? You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said. “One-third related deaths come from nursing homes. I want to be clear: This was not only because our elderly are more vulnerable to COVID-19. It goes, I think, deeper.”