Senate Finance Committee Examines COVID-19 in Nursing Homes – Cantwell Pushes for Improved Coordination, Protocols to Keep Residents Safe

Recent COVID relief package contained $750 million to support nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities based on legislation Cantwell cosponsored

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, at a Senate Committee on Finance hearing examining COVID-19 in nursing homes, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) spoke about the impact the pandemic has had in nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities and called for more government coordination and protocols to keep residents safe.

“The State of Washington was one of the first states to record the impacts of the COVID-19 virus. And many people may remember on February 10th, the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, reported an outbreak of COVID-19 within the facility that ultimately would claim 46 lives. In the State of Washington, nearly half of reported deaths have been in a long-term care facilities,” Cantwell said.

In her remarks, Cantwell pointed to new funding from the American Rescue Plan, based on legislation introduced by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) that she cosponsored, to support nursing home facilities nationwide: “That is why the American Rescue Plan included $750 million to support nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, including $500 million for strike teams and $200 million for infection control,” Cantwell continued. “This is something of my colleague, Senator Casey, and his leadership, as part of the COVID-19 Nursing Home Protection Act, which I also co-sponsored with him, was very important legislation.”

Cantwell also highlighted the importance of coordination between the facilities and government officials at every level to ensure the safety of residents.

“What else can you do in coordination?” Cantwell asked the witnesses. “What else should we be doing to consider the coordination with the strike teams… to help [during] these crises?”

The State of Washington currently has a number of strike teams deployed in nursing homes across the state, including two in King County and one each in Clark, Snohomish, Pierce, and Spokane counties. They have helped support increased workloads on nursing home facility staff and have been critical to stabilizing nursing facilities struggling to keep their workforce when an outbreak occurred.

Cantwell also asked University of Chicago Professor R. Tamara Konetzka about the protocols in place for coordination:

“Do you think we have the protocols in place now?” Cantwell asked.

Konetzka responded: “I think it's unclear. I think there are still some things that need to be worked on in terms of overall coordination.”

“I think we really need to think about this in the sense of protocols that need to be established because this is such a painful experience for everyone, and I think knowing how we would improve upon it, and not just the strike teams, but the larger coordinated effort in marrying everything together, that would be great,” Cantwell concluded.

Video from Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with the witnesses is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is available HERE.