House coronavirus task force launches probe into largest nursing home operators

House coronavirus task force launches probe into largest nursing home operators
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The House subcommittee tasked with overseeing the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic has written to the country's largest nursing home companies, as well as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, demanding thorough reports on their preparedness for and handling of COVID-19.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the chair of the subcommittee penned the letters on Tuesday. 

“The Subcommittee is concerned that lax oversight by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the federal government’s failure to provide testing supplies and personal protective equipment to nursing homes and long-term care facilities may have contributed to the spread of the coronavirus and the deaths of more than 40,000 Americans in these facilities,” Clyburn wrote to the agency. “Despite CMS’s broad legal authority, the agency has largely deferred to states, local governments, and for-profit nursing homes to respond to the coronavirus crisis.”

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The elderly fall into one of the two demographics that have an increased risk for fatal complications from COVID-19, the other being people with underlying conditions. As such, nursing homes have been plagued by outbreaks of the virus across the country and have accounted for more than a third of the U.S.'s 117,600 deaths from COVID-19. 

Clyburn's letter comes after a hearing that the subcommittee held on June 11, where the panel heard from health experts and Americans who have been affected by the pandemic.

In the hearing, David Grabowski, a Harvard Medical School doctor, said that the federal government needed to "own this issue."

"The federal government should set a consistent policy across all U.S. nursing homes and then provide states and nursing homes with the resources to achieve it," Grabowski explained. "The buck has to stop there.”

Clyburn wrote: "CMS has issued guidance for nursing homes, but this guidance has often been unclear, and CMS failed to take adequate steps to ensure that nursing homes comply with its recommendations. Deregulation and lax enforcement of infection control violations by CMS—both before and during the pandemic—may have contributed to the spread of the virus.”

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In his letter, Clyburn requested that CMS transmit information on how CMS enforced the regulations that it had put forth as well as how much testing and PPE it provided to nursing homes nationwide.

The nursing homes that Clyburn wrote to – Genesis HealthCare, Life Care Centers of America, Ensign Group, SavaSeniorCare and Consulate Health Care – run more than 850 nursing homes across 40 states, totaling over 80,000 residents. Each of them have had multiple COVID-19 outbreaks throughout their facilities, according to the subcommittee's release.

From the companies, the panel wants details on "coronavirus cases and deaths, testing, personal protective equipment, staffing levels and pay, legal violations, and efforts to prevent further infections." It also wants more clarity regarding how the companies used funds received from the CARES Act.

Life Care Centers of America told The Hill in an email that they had received the letter and that it would take "some time to evaluate the extent of the information being requested."

The Hill has reached out to the other companies for comment. Attempts to reach SavaSeniorCare were unsuccessful, but the company declined to comment to Politico, saying that it needed to “read and absorb" the letter.

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House GOP Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseRepublicans fear disaster in November Gaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker Hillicon Valley: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video MORE (R-La.), the ranking Republican on the panel, said that nursing homes' failure to follow CMS' guidelines was a state-level issue.

“This attempt to pin the tragedy in America’s nursing homes on President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE is desperate, unconvincing, and completely divorced from reality," Scalise told Politico.

The Hill has also reached out to CMS for comment.