As Nursing Home PPE Shortages Intensify, Senators Demand Answers from Pence on Supply Issues

Citing rising numbers of nursing facilities reporting shortages of key personal protective equipment (PPE), a pair of U.S. senators sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence requesting more information about federal efforts to direct supplies to post-acute and long-term care facilities.

“We write to reiterate our deep concern that the Trump Administration’s continued failure to secure and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) leaves nursing homes without the resources necessary to protect residents and workers from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19),” Sens. Ron Wyden and Bob Casey wrote to Pence in a letter dated Wednesday. “Masks, gloves, gowns, and other PPE are the armor that nursing home workers wear into battle against COVID-19, and their continued scarcity in nursing homes around the country puts residents and the workers who care for them at unneeded risk.”

Pence serves as the chair of the White House Coronavirus Task Force; copies of the letter were also sent to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Seema Verma and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield.

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The senators, both Democrats, pointed to CMS data showing that more than 3,200 facilities had less than a one-week supply of at least one type of necessary PPE as of August 9, an increase from the nearly 2,700 in the same situation on July 5.

“The number of nursing homes reporting supply shortages increased across every type of PPE from early July to early August,” Wyden and Casey wrote.

Source: Sens. Ron Wyden and Bob Casey, CMS

In particular, the lawmakers wanted Pence to describe federal efforts to ensure for-profit facilities were maintaining proper levels of PPE, citing a recent study in the journal Health Affairs that found such buildings were far likelier to report shortages.

Other requests included a clearer definition of a “one-week supply” of PPE items, given elevated supply burn rates; information about potentially requiring nursing homes to maintain a certain stockpile of reserve PPE; confirmation of whether the federal government used demographic data to determine if the PPE shortages are disproportionately concentrated among nursing homes that serve primarily black or Latino populations; and more details about a federal plan to ship N95 masks to select facilities.

“The Trump Administration’s continued failure to provide nursing homes with adequate supplies of PPE is one in a long line of decisions that has put residents and workers in unnecessary danger,” the senators wrote.

The letter was sent one day after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed a plan to distribute 1.5 million N95 respirators from the Strategic National Stockpile to more than 3,300 nursing homes, with shipments beginning August 28.