WASHINGTON – The Trump administration was slow to comprehend the scale of COVID-19's impact on nursing homes and a disjointed federal response has only compounded the devastating toll, according to a report from Senate Democrats.
Wednesday's report finds a lack of coordination among government agencies hindered access to coronavirus testing and protective equipment, among other problems.
“Unfortunately for the nation, it is a chronicle of deadly delay, and a lack of urgency, and the lack of a strategy,” said Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, ranking Democrat on the Aging Committee. “What we see in the way the administration handled this reflects the administration's failure in responding to the pandemic generally.”
Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., joined in the report.
The head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the lead federal agency on nursing homes, defended the administration's record. “The report is disingenuous,” said Seema Verma. “I think the agency has had a historic and unprecedented response and should be commended for its efforts.” Verma cited numerous agency alerts and guidance documents directed to nursing homes. CMS also says it has redoubled emphasis on inspections for infection control.
Investigative agencies like the Government Accountability Office and the Health and Human Services inspector general are also focusing on nursing homes, which house a tiny share of the population but represent a large proportion of COVID deaths. The issue could have political repercussions for President Donald Trump as he tries to persuade older Americans to back him for a second term.
Even now, four months after the first nursing home outbreak was reported in Kirkland, Washington, there's no consensus estimate of the extent of suffering and death.
Statistics reported by nursing homes to the federal government as of June 14 show nearly 30,800 residents have died, according to an Associated Press analysis of the government numbers.