A call to action in nursing homes during COVID-19 pandemic

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — An advocacy group for older Americans is calling for greater government intervention to make nursing homes a safer environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The numbers in Pennsylvania are really devastating,” Bill Sweeney, Senior VP of Government Affairs, AARP, said.

COVID-19 has turned many nursing homes in Pennsylvania into virtual killing fields. More than 4,500 deaths from the virus have been reported to date at long term care facilities in the commonwealth.

“You know, to give some perspective one percent of Americans live in nursing homes but 40 percent of the deaths have been in nursing homes. So, this is a real tragedy,” Sweeney said.

A tragedy which the AARP Senior Vice President of Government Affairs says would not have been as severe with sufficient PPE like masks, gloves and gowns available at the very start of the outbreak. But Sweeney says other factors need to be taken into consideration to fully understand the problem.

“I really think we need to be doing a much better job of understanding the testing, doing it very quickly, doing it very urgently but also of the staff. I mean the staff who come in and work in the facility, who go from room to room, if a staff member is one of those asymptomatic carriers and doesn’t know it you know they could have a devastating impact on the facility,” Sweeney said.

AARP wants mandatory testing and inspections at all nursing homes and no immunity from litigation for mishandling the pandemic as some states have requested. The organization also wants Washington to do more financially for these facilities.

“We’re calling on Congress to provide that funding, to provide funding not only for the PPE and the testing but also for virtual visitation, to provide the equipment, but also help for support,” Sweeney said.

AARP also urges family members of nursing home residents to ask the facility some key questions.

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