The COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on the vulnerability of nursing home residents and employees around the country.
Even with the help of COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, which the industry says have significantly improved conditions in nursing homes, employees and people with loved ones in nursing homes are sounding the alarm to Congress that they still need help.
In a House hearing this week, they point to widespread staff shortages and low pay for nursing home employees.
“The crisis in our nursing homes is far from over,” said Adelina Ramos, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in Rhode Island. “We continue to face severe staffing shortages. CNAs are burnt out, mentally, physically. Our pay is so low that some of us have to work two or three jobs.”
Ramos said the lack of resources often forces workers to choose between helping one elderly resident in need over another.
“I can’t describe how painful it feels when we are forced to make those kinds of choices,” said Ramos.
Testimony called for improved compensation for workers tasked with caring for the elderly residents.
“They also need the resources, compensation, training and support to deliver that care,” said Dr. Alice Bonner, Moving Forward Nursing Home Quality Coalition Chair and Senior Advisor for Aging at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
Emotional testimony from a Brooklyn man highlighted the urgency to keep nursing home residents safe during a health crisis like the pandemic.
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“I had four family members die,” said Daniel Arbeeny. “My father, my uncle, my two close cousins of the virus. Three of them were in nursing homes.”
Arbeeny argues those nursing home deaths are because of a 2020 New York state directive that nursing homes admit COVID-19 patients.
Arbeeny is suing the former governor of New York and other officials for failing to keep his father and other residents safe.
“Those are the ones we are supposed to honor and protect, and we failed,” said Arbeeny. “We failed miserably.”
Witnesses called for more accountability from nursing home owners and government agencies tasked with oversight of the facilities.
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“We are fed up with the lack of respect nursing home owners and lawmakers show our workforce,” said Ramos. “Change needs to happen now.”