WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) on Thursday joined fellow Republicans on the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis in urging the attorneys general of New York, California, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to investigate these states’ orders requiring long-term care facilities to accept COVID-19 patients and the impact of these policies on vulnerable nursing home populations. Letters sent to the attorneys general can be found here.
In a hearing of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, Walorski on Thursday also called on the governors of these states to answer tough questions about these deadly policies. Nursing home residents make up only 0.6 percent of the U.S. population but account for 43 percent of the nation’s coronavirus deaths.
“Regardless of the state, each and every one of these deaths is a tragedy, but it’s clear that some states mismanaged the response and ignored the warning signs,” Congresswoman Walorski 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. Now is the time to look closely at this response and figure out what went wrong.”
Video of Walorski speaking at the Ways and Means subcommittee hearing is available here. Her remarks as prepared for delivery is below.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thanks to our witnesses for being here.
“The coronavirus pandemic has affected the whole world, but there is no question its impact has been felt more severely in some populations than others. Nowhere is that more evident than in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity estimates that, although nursing home residents make up only 0.6 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 43 percent of coronavirus deaths. Some who track these numbers put that percentage even higher. The U.S. is not alone, with this relatively small percentage of the population accounting for 49 percent of coronavirus deaths in Sweden and 82 percent in Canada.
“It’s easy to see why this is such a challenge. Coronavirus spreads most easily indoors and at close quarters, and it is deadliest among the elderly and those with underlying conditions. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are a perfect storm of the biggest risk factors and thus require a higher level of care. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo likened the spread of coronavirus in these facilities to “fire through dry grass.” Which makes it all the more puzzling that his state forced nursing homes to admit patients who tested positive for coronavirus. This policy effectively seeded burning embers into dry grass.
“New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Illinois pursued some form of these policies, too, with devastating effects. These seven states account for 60 percent of our nation’s nursing home deaths. According to a recent ProPublica article, Michigan has lost about 5 percent of its total nursing home residents to coronavirus. In New Jersey, that figure is a staggering 12 percent.
“By contrast, California had a forced transfer policy, but reversed it after two days and was able to limit its deaths in nursing homes to 2 percent. Florida banned these transfers from the start and has lost 1.6 percent of its nursing home residents.
“Regardless of the state, each and every one of these deaths is a tragedy. But it’s clear that some states mismanaged the response and ignored the warning signs. These misguided policies deserve close scrutiny, and the leaders who put them in place have a lot of tough questions to answer.
“Pennsylvania’s top health official took their mother out of a nursing home as the state was forcing nursing homes to take these positive patients. That’s scandalous.
“Three days after Michigan reported its first coronavirus cases, the state nursing home association recommended to Governor Gretchen Whitmer that the state use empty facilities as quarantine centers. That was ignored.
“Governor Cuomo scrubbed any mention of his failed nursing home directive off the state’s website, manipulated New York data to understate the true scope of deaths, and at every step tried to wish away any responsibility for this utter failure.
“Now is not the time to look the other way. Now is the time to look closely at this response and figure out what went wrong.”
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.