Schakowsky, Takano Introduce Bill to Protect Nursing Home Resident and Staff During COVID-19 Pandemic

January 28, 2021
Press Release

EVANSTON - Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a Senior Chief Deputy Whip, Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, and Co-Chair of the House Democratic Task Force on Aging and Families, and Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA), Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee have introduced the Quality Care for Nursing Home Residents and Workers During COVID-19 and Beyond Act. This legislation protects the health and well-being of those living and working in nursing homes by increasing infection control and prevention, testing, and personal protective equipment; surging funding for strike teams to the hardest hit nursing homes; mandating transparency and reporting of COVID-19 cases and fatalities; and, requiring the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to conduct better oversight, including inspections and guidance. These reforms are vital to guarantee the human right to high quality, long term care for the seniors and individuals with disabilities who depend on nursing home facilities to survive.

Over 136,000 nursing home residents and staff have died during the current COVID-19 crisis, accounting for nearly 36% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. After Congresswoman Schakowsky and 77 of her colleagues called for CMS to implement COVID-19 data in nursing homes, some data began to be reported. However, facility-level data is incomplete, and we still do not know the full extent of COVID-19 cases and fatalities among residents or the workers who care for them.

“The COVID-19 crisis in our nation’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities is a national tragedy that demands a comprehensive response. This legislation will finally offer that to the millions of the older Americans, individuals with disabilities, and dedicated workers who rely on nursing homes for their lives and livelihoods,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky. “Over the past year, we have failed to adequately protect our nation’s nursing homes from COVID-19. I consistently read horror stories from around the country of nursing homes that could have done better to protect their residents and staff. Putting a loved one in a nursing facility is always a difficult decision. We must ensure nursing home residents and workers are not harmed because of deficiencies in the facilities they rely on to survive. Every person in the United States deserves the right to age with dignity and respect.”

“Nursing homes have been particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic and more needs to be done to protect those who live and work in these facilities,” said Rep. Mark Takano. “I’m introducing this legislation with Rep. Schakowsky because we need a comprehensive approach to support nursing homes, to protect residents and staff, and to ensure that they have the tools they need to properly respond to the pandemic. Our national strategy to crush this virus cannot leave vulnerable seniors and those who care for them behind.”

The Quality Care for Nursing Home Residents and Workers During COVID-19 and Beyond Act is a culmination of Congresswoman Schakowsky’s work and commitment to increase protections for America’s seniors and the staff that care for them. This comprehensive legislation would immediately address the nation’s inadequate response to the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes and ensure that residents of nursing homes are guaranteed their right to appropriate and high-quality care. The bill:

  • Increases staffing: Establishes higher minimum nurse staffing levels for nursing homes under Medicare and Medicaid and expands training requirements and supervision for all nursing staff.
  • Creates protections for residents and workers: creates whistleblower and other protections for nursing home residents and personnel; prohibits the use of forced arbitration agreements between residents and any nursing home entity; and, develops a standardized protocol for nursing facilities to obtain written informed consent from residents for treatment with psychotropic drugs.
  • Increases quality of care: Requires facilities to employ a full-time infection preventionist; ensure adequate numbers of staff to assist residents in making weekly “virtual visits;” allow residents the right to return if they leave during the COVID-19 crisis; obtain sign-off from residents or representatives for transfer or discharge
  • Improves worker safety: Requires facilities to provide comprehensive worker training around COVID-19, sufficient PPE, and at least two weeks of paid sick leave for all employees 
  • Increases testing: Requires weekly testing for residents and daily pre-shift testing for staff, or screenings until sufficient tests become available
  • Increases Transparency: Requires facilities to report COVID-19 cases, including demographic information, all COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 fatalities, PPE available and projected need, staffing and testing data every 24 hours; requires facilities to inform residents, residents, their representatives, and workers within 12 hours of a death or confirmed case; requires CDC and CMS to coordinate to publicly post COVID-19 data online
  • Implements strike teams: Authorizes $500 million for states to establish expert strike teams for resident and worker safety to be deployed within 72 hours of 3+ confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases in a facility
  • Strengthens infection control: Requires state survey agencies to ensure surveyors have adequate PPE and conduct an inspection within 72 hours if ratio of fatalities to confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases exceeds 5%
  • Focuses on resident rights: Requires CMS to establish criteria for facility to be designated as COVID-19-only, to develop a plan to address complaint surveys that have been paused during the emergency, and to reinstitute pre-pandemic requirements as soon as possible
  • Improves congregate living: Requires the Secretary to issue public recommendations to congregate living facilities outside CMS jurisdiction around virtual visits, worker safety, and infection prevention.

The Quality Care for Nursing Home Residents and Workers During COVID-19 and Beyond Act has been endorsed by Social Security Works.

“Nursing homes are the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis,” states Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works. “It's long past time to make them a priority. That means rushing aid to nursing home residents and workers, while holding corporations accountable for putting profits over human lives. This bill does both.”