Well before COVID-19 devastated nursing homes in Pennsylvania and nationally, Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Scranton and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of the Lehigh Valley reached across the aisle to press nursing home reform.
The senators conducted a study in 2019 that found widespread neglect and abuse in long-term-care centers that had been placed under the Department of Health and Human Services’ Special Focus Facility program. And, for the first time, they revealed the names of the low-performing nursing homes that qualified for federal supervision.
Since then, COVID-19 has been a catastrophe for nursing homes and a magnifying glass on many of the problems that previously had been revealed by Toomey and Casey.
According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, COVID-19 has killed more than 178,000 residents and staff members of long-term-care facilities over the past year. According to the state Department of Health, COVID-19 has sickened more than 68,000 nursing home residents and more than 13,000 employees in Pennsylvania — a combined 12,821 of whom have died. In Lackawanna County, COVID-19 has killed 310 people who lived or worked in nursing homes; in Luzerne County, it has claimed 453 residents and workers. Nationally, Pennsylvania has the fourth-highest number of nursing home deaths due to COVID-19.
Casey and Toomey have introduced the Nursing Home Modernization Reform Act of 2021, which focuses on the poorest-performing nursing homes. The Special Focus Facility program provides for additional inspections and oversight of troubled facilities, but the program accommodates only 88 at any given time.
The bill would expand the program to handle all nursing homes that qualify. It also would increase educational resources for noncompliant nursing homes and create an independent advisory council to recommend ways to improve the quality of nursing home care.
COVID-19 has made a definitive case that this bipartisan bill is needed. The Senate quickly should pass it.
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