Senator Collins Leads Congress’ First Oversight Hearing on COVID-19’s Devastating Impact on Seniors

Older adults account for 80 percent of COVID-19 fatalities, while residents and workers in nursing homes and other long-term care settings represent more than one-third of all COVID-19 deaths.

In Maine, more than 50% of COVID-19 deaths have been residents of long-term care facilities, significantly above the national average.

 

Click HERE to read Senator Collins’ opening statement.

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ opening statement.  Click HERE to download.

 

Washington, D.C.—Today, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Chairman of the Aging Committee, convened Congress’ first oversight hearing on the devastating, disproportionate toll the coronavirus pandemic is having on seniors, particularly those who reside in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. 

 

Adults age 65 years and older represent two out of every five hospitalizations and eight out of every 10 deaths from the virus.  Those in nursing homes and group care settings are especially at risk.  Nationwide, residents and workers in nursing homes and other long-term care settings represent more than one-third of all COVID-19 deaths.  In Maine, more than half of COVID-19 deaths have been seniors in long-term care facilities.

 

Today’s hearing, titled, “Caring for Seniors Amid the COVID-19 Crisis,” explored what can be done to better protect this vulnerable population.  Senators heard testimony from a panel of experts who are supporting older adults in hospitals, nursing homes, home health settings, and the community. 

 

“COVID-19 has brought tremendous hardship and tragedy, placing a heavy burden on the frontline workers, straining our healthcare and distribution systems, and imposing a deadly toll on our seniors in particular,” said Senator Collins.  “Those in nursing homes and congregate care centers are especially at risk.  Nationwide, nursing home residents represent one-third of all coronavirus deaths.  In Maine, the toll on nursing home residents is even higher.”

 

Senator Collins also pointed out that the virus has disrupted the lives of seniors who are not infected as well as their families.

 

“I know two brothers from Bangor, whose father is in a nursing home and has dementia,” Senator Collins remarked.  “They have not been able to see him for some time now, and his health is failing.  They are worried that he may not still be alive by the time they are allowed to visit him.”

 

Dr. Tamara Konetzka, a professor of health services research at the University of Chicago, shared the results of her work to untangle factors associated with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on nursing home residents and staff. In a recent study she conducted of nursing homes from 12 geographically diverse states, she found that there was no meaningful relationship between nursing home quality and the probability of at least one COVID-19 case or death.

 

Dr. Konetzka recommended that long-term care facilities implement regular and rapid testing of all residents and staff, provide adequate staffing, and ensure that personal protective equipment (PPE) is available.

 

As the chief infectious disease specialist for New York University, Dr. Mark J. Mulligan oversees the treatment of COVID-19 patients at the University’s health system hospitals.  He explained that seniors are at increased risk due to aging-related decline of the immune system as well as chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, and the elderly who reside in nursing homes are the most vulnerable.

 

“For physicians, scientists, and leaders, the virus has continued to humble us.  There’s so much we don’t know yet about diagnosis, prevention, and treatment,” said Dr. Mulligan.  “The nurses and doctors I have worked with are incredibly dedicated and caring, but they have not had the medical countermeasures needed to effectively help many vulnerable seniors who have died of this disease.”

 

Dr. Mulligan provided an overview of the promising medical countermeasures under development—diagnostics, monoclonal antibodies, and potential treatments such as remdesivir. 

 

Dr. Steven Landers, the President and CEO of Visiting Nurse Association Health Group who oversees a team of 3,000 caregivers that cares for 9,000 people daily, provided a home health perspective on the public health crisis. 

 

Dr. Landers thanked Senator Collins for a provision she secured in the CARES Act that allows physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and certified nurse midwives to order home health services, referring to it as “an important step in preserving access.”

 

“I have never seen the system so strained, but I also have never felt more proud of the skilled, compassionate, and courageous people I work with,” said Dr. Landers.