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Trump outlines initiatives to protect nursing homes

Trump outlines initiatives to protect nursing homes
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President TrumpDonald TrumpKushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 Biden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE on Thursday outlined a handful of new initiatives intended to aid and protect nursing homes as the coronavirus pandemic takes a heavy toll on older Americans.

Trump announced the creation of a commission focused on safety in nursing homes composed of industry experts, patient advocates and state and local officials. The group will meet in May and issue recommendations for steps to protect seniors.

The administration will allocate $81 million in congressional funding toward increased inspections of nursing homes to ensure they are complying with infectious disease protocols, the president said.

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The federal government will also require nursing homes to report information about coronavirus cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"My administration will never waver in its relentless commitment to America’s seniors," Trump said. "We owe them a sacred and unbreakable obligation, and we will fulfill that obligation with every resource and power that we have.”

The coronavirus has ravaged nursing homes and elder care facilities, where many residents have weakened immune systems and are already susceptible to the disease. Nursing homes have been closed to visitors to slow the spread of the virus, and federal guidelines call for visits to remain prohibited until states have seen the number of cases decline for several weeks.

Trump's outreach to seniors also comes as polls in the last week have shown him trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenMellman: Trump voters cling to 2020 tale FDA authorizes another batch of J&J vaccine Cotton warns of China collecting athletes' DNA at 2022 Olympics MORE with voters 65 and older.

Trump spoke from the East Room of the White House, where he was joined by several administration officials, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) and leaders from the long-term care industry.

"The tragic reality is the coronavirus seemed almost tailor made to put major pressure on nursing homes," said Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge and one of the attendees at Thursday's event, said in a statement Thursday evening that the measures detailed by the administration were insufficient. 

"The time for talk, symbolism, and proclamations has passed. It's time for action from the White House and Congress," Smith Sloan said in a statement. "For weeks and weeks, vulnerable older adults have been living in fear as infections and death tolls climbed, not knowing whether the equipment, testing, and support they need to protect their lives would arrive in time."

She called for more expansive availability of testing and personal protective equipment for nursing homes and additional assistance for older Americans living in federally-assisted housing, among other steps.

The New York Department of Health has reported there were 3,688 coronavirus deaths in nursing homes or adult care facilities as of Wednesday.

California officials have reported that 40 percent of the state's coronavirus-related deaths are linked to nursing homes, though they have yet to release detailed numbers, according to local reports.

The South Carolina Department of Health released data this week that showed there have been 44 deaths at long-term care facilities in the state, accounting for roughly 23 percent of the state's total coronavirus deaths.

The political undertones of Thursday's event were hard to miss, though, as Trump has seen his standing among older voters slip in recent polling. The development has triggered concerns among some advisers given seniors will play an outsized role in key swing states like Arizona and Florida.

Biden leads Trump 51 percent to 45 percent in New Hampshire among voters 65 and older, according to a Saint Anselm College poll released Thursday.

A Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters released last week showed Biden leading Trump 52 percent to 42 percent among those 65 and older in the Sunshine State.

A Fox News poll released last week showed Biden leading Trump among Baby Boomers surveyed in Pennsylvania by 51 percent to 44 percent. 

Trump performed well with seniors in 2016, and particularly so in Florida. But his margin for error is slim heading into November, particularly in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin and Florida, which could determine the outcome of the election.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany rejected any political motivations in setting up Thursday's event, telling reporters earlier in the day it had "nothing to do with polling but everything to do with ensuring that our nation's seniors feel protected at this time."

Updated at 7:16 p.m.