Select Subcommittee Republicans take steps to hold governors accountable for coronavirus nursing home tragedies

Published: Jun 15, 2020

On Monday, Republican Whip and Select Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Scalise, along with the other four Republican members of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent letters to the governors of five states that forced nursing homes to take in COVID-positive patients as part of their pandemic response.

“The decision of several governors to ignore federal protocols and instead mandate COVID positive patients be forced back to their nursing homes ended up being a death sentence for tens of thousands of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens,” Ranking Member Scalise said. “We owe it to those who died and their grieving families to get to the bottom of why these deadly decisions were made by these governors, ensure we stop this from still taking place, and prevent tragedies like these from happening again as we continue to battle this deadly virus.”

The letters, which Select Subcommittee Democrats declined to sign, were sent to the governors of five states: Andrew Cuomo of New York, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gavin Newsom of California, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the elderly, especially those living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities,” the letters read. “We write seeking information, at a granular level, about the science and information used to inform your decision to mandate nursing homes and long-term care facilities admit untested and contagious COVID-19 patients from hospitals.”

During last week’s virtual briefing about the pandemic’s effect on nursing homes and their residents, Ranking Member Scalise called on Democrat members of the Select Subcommittee to get to the bottom of what motivated these decisions and urged his Democrat colleagues to join the oversight effort. They declined to do so.

“Democrats failed our nursing home residents, plain and simple. Despite clear warnings about exposing nursing homes to this virus, some Democrat governors decided it made more sense to force nursing homes to take in coronavirus patients, which resulted in countless avoidable deaths,” said Oversight Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “The American people deserve to know what informed and motivated these decisions so it doesn’t happen again.”

“Just about the worst possible thing to do is knowingly introduce coronavirus to the most vulnerable populations, yet that’s exactly what several states did by mandating nursing homes accept infected patients,” Select Subcommittee member Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) said. “These misguided policies deserve close scrutiny, and the leaders who put them in place have a lot of tough questions to answer. Now is not the time to look the other way while placing blame for this crisis on states that are taking a measured, responsible approach to reopening our economy and protecting our communities.”

“As the rest of the nation practiced social distancing and exercised caution to slow the spread of the virus, certain governors forced untested or potentially contagious COVD-19 patients to be readmitted to nursing homes and long-term care facilities, endangering the lives of staff and an extremely vulnerable group of Americans,” said Select Subcommittee member Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.). “These actions were incredibly irresponsible and must be addressed.”

“The vast majority of those dying in nursing homes are located in the states that blew off the President’s direction and the CDC’s guidance,” said Select Subcommittee member Mark Green (R-Tenn.) “The governors of these states must provide details about their decisions to send contagious COVID19 patients into nursing homes. The American people, and their loved ones, deserve answers.”

Background:

  • On March 13, 2020, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued guidance “For Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes.”
  • The March 13 guidance said that “nursing homes should admit any individual that they would normally admit to their facility, including individuals from hospitals where a case of COVID-19 was/is present” only if the nursing home can follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) quarantining guidance.
  • CMS Administrator Seema Verma later 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.”
  • Despite these warnings, however, governors of multiple states issued guidance and executive orders forcing nursing homes to admit people with the virus, thereby encouraging the spread to those vulnerable populations.
  • While nursing home residents make up 0.6% of the U.S. population, they account for 42% of nationwide COVID-19 deaths, Ranking Member Scalise pointed out at last week’s briefing.
  • Scalise added, “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 homes deaths in New York are 500% higher than Florida and New Jersey is 1,120% higher than Florida.”