The Trump administration was slow to comprehend the scale of COVID-19’s impact on nursing homes and a confused, disjointed federal response only compounded the fatal toll, according to a Senate report. The report finds a lack of coordination among government agencies hindered access to coronavirus testing and protective equipment, among other problems.
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.
Even now, four months after the first nursing home outbreak was reported in Kirkland, Washington, on Feb. 29, there’s no consensus estimate of the extent of suffering and death. Urgent recommendations from the White House and guidance from CMS to test nursing home residents and staff did not translate to results on the ground because there was no system in place to guarantee the availability of tests and supplies.
The nursing home industry has been cited for poor infection control practices and chronic staffing shortages to blame for not being prepared. Staff members often work at multiple facilities and may have unwittingly contributed to spreading the virus, since people can be contagious without any noticeable symptoms.