Nursing Home Tragedies Were Avoidable
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republican Whip and Ranking Member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Steve Scalise (R-La.) opened today's Select Subcommittee briefing by demanding accountability for decisions that led to thousands of needless deaths in nursing homes across America.
Whip Scalise informed the subcommittee that he would be requesting information on the decision-making processes that led to horrific nursing home outcomes in states like New York, New Jersey, and California. Scalise also called for Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to rescind an executive order mandating that Michigan nursing homes take COVID-positive patients, and implement best practices from states like Florida, led by Governor Ron DeSantis, which saved thousands of lives.
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
"Mr. Chairman, as we face the very serious challenges before us, I first want to begin today with positive news. After a long and difficult few months, the American recovery has begun. All 50 states have finally begun reopening. We just got the May jobs report — instead of an expected 7.5 million additional jobs lost, we shattered the post-WWII record by creating 2.5 million new jobs in May. The Paycheck Protection Program that we passed with President Trump has made loans to over more than 4.5 million small businesses and lent over $500 billion to save millions more jobs for hard-working families. Clearly, the work we have done together has helped America make it through some of the toughest times in our nation’s history. And now, we’re seeing the American people burst out of their homes with energy and a determination to get back to work and make America a more perfect union.
"Our job now is to keep this recovery moving forward. While we know the virus still remains, we also know that we have turned a corner in our response. We have conducted more than 3.2 million tests in the past seven days. Production and delivery of PPE increases daily. The private sector, FEMA, and HHS have delivered tens of millions of N95 respirators, surgical masks, face shields, and over a billion surgical gloves. Under President Trump’s direction, the FDA has expedited promising therapies and vaccines that are being tested as we speak.
"Make no mistake, COVID-19 is an insidious and evil enemy. As today’s hearing underscores, this hidden enemy attacks the elderly at an alarming rate. Our job is to protect those who are most vulnerable. Nursing home residents make up 0.6% of the U.S. population but account for 42% of nationwide COVID-19 deaths. This is unacceptable and sadly was largely avoidable.
"The decision of several governors to essentially mandate COVID-positive patients go back to their nursing homes ended up being a death sentence. New York has suffered 6,318 deaths in nursing homes. New Jersey – 6,327. Compare that to Florida – a retirement state – 1,454. On a per-capita basis, nursing home deaths in New York are 500 percent higher than Florida and New Jersey is 1,120 percent higher than Florida.
"Other states, like Michigan, California, and Pennsylvania that forced COVID-positive patients back to nursing homes have similar, tragic disparities.
"Today, Mr. Chairman, we should be focused on what went wrong. Let’s walk through what happened. On February 6th, CMS released the first guidance related to COVID for nursing homes. The Administration saw what had begun to unfold in Europe and took quick action. On February 29th, America experienced the first nursing home outbreak in Washington state.
"On March 13th, CMS updated guidance to continuing clarifying how to treat COVID-positive patients discharged from hospitals. CMS Administrator Seema Verma said '[u]nder no circumstances should a hospital discharge a patient to a nursing home that is not prepared to take care of those patient’s needs.'
"But unfortunately, on March 25th, Governor Cuomo’s health department issued a directive in contradiction to CMS guidance by mandating nursing homes to take COVID-19 positive patients. New Jersey essentially copied New York’s order – also with deadly results. Two weeks earlier, Governor DeSantis of Florida prohibited transferring COVID-19 positive patients from hospitals to nursing homes. Very different orders yielded very different results.
"On March 18th, Pennsylvania also issued guidance mandating nursing homes continue to accept new admissions and readmissions including patients that have COVID-19. While defending this decision, Pennsylvania’s own Health Secretary moved her mother out of a nursing home.
"On April 15th, the Governor of Michigan issued a similar Executive Order mandating nursing homes accept patients regardless of COVID-19 status. Michigan State Democratic Representative Leslie Love criticized the Governor’s reckless order calling it 'an epic fail.' Mr. Chairman, shockingly, that order remains in effect today. I call on Governor Whitmer to rescind this order immediately and I hope my colleagues will join me in standing up for the patients and families in Michigan.
"I have drafted letters for each of these governors requesting information on what led to these tragic decisions. I ask that all Members of this Subcommittee sign these letters so we can prevent more unnecessary deaths from occurring. Let’s work on a bipartisan basis to get all of the information and data – and ensure these deadly mistakes are not repeated.
"Mr. Chairman, the American people have decided it is time to safely reopen and get back to work so they can rebuild and reopen. It is time for us to stand together for justice and equality. Doing this requires that we protect those most vulnerable to this virus. We must turn a bright light of sunshine on the mistakes that were made – so needless deaths no longer occur. I yield back."