(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) joined Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Chair of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, and 76 colleagues in sending a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma asking them to work with states, localities, and private labs to immediately collect and publicly report facility-level data on the number of long-term care residents affected by the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19), including cases and fatalities. As reported by NBC News today, the absence of comprehensive federal data risks endangering even more lives.
“Without understanding the scope and impact of the pandemic within long-term care facilities, the Administration and the Congress lack essential information to adequately respond and protect older Americans and individuals with disabilities who rely on these facilities to survive and are particularly at risk for COVID-19,” the Members wrote.
The only federal data currently available is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s March 30 estimate that at least 400 long-term care facilities have COVID-19 cases. All current information has come from journalists who are reporting at least 3,000 nursing home residents have died and that at least 2,300 facilities across over 37 states have cases. However, the actual numbers are likely far more dire.
In the letter, Congresswoman Schakowsky and her colleagues emphasized the specific vulnerability of older Americans and individuals with disabilities living in long-term care facilities: “Before COVID-19, infections already caused as many as 3 million illnesses and almost 400,000 deaths in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities each year, making them a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among the 2.3 million long-term care facility residents in the United States. Approximately 75 percent of nursing homes have been cited for infection control deficiencies over the past three years alone. Further, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, has said that ‘people who are higher risk for severe disease and death are those who are older and with underlying health conditions.’ Publicizing this vulnerability is necessary, but not sufficient. It must be complemented by data collection around how COVID-19 is spreading in congregate communities where these individuals are heavily concentrated and where history suggests they are at particular risk.”
The letter continues: “Last week, Administrator Verma promised to publish the racial and demographic information of coronavirus cases. That publication is of critical importance and long overdue—we urge CMS to include facility-level data on long-term care settings upon doing so. HHS, CMS, CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and all other relevant agencies must work together to closely monitor and address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in our nation’s nursing homes and other congregate living facilities. Protecting the most vulnerable among us must be an essential priority. If HHS fails to collect these data, we fear that the fatalities of congregate living facilities will linger in hindsight as a national and avoidable tragedy.”
The letter closes by urging HHS and CMS not to leave older Americans, individuals with disabilities, veterans, and all those living in nursing homes and congregate living settings behind in their coronavirus response.
The 77 Members who joined Congresswoman Schakowsky to send the letter are Representatives Alma S. Adams, Ph.D., Cindy Axne, Joyce Beatty, Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., Anthony G. Brown, Tony Cárdenas, André Carson, Sean Casten, Joaquin Castro, Judy Chu, Yvette D. Clarke, Steve Cohen, Danny K. Davis, Peter A. DeFazio, Diana DeGette, Ted Deutch, Debbie Dingell, Lloyd Doggett, Mike Doyle, Eliot L. Engel, Adriano Espaillat, Bill Foster, Ruben Gallego, Vicente Gonzalez, Raúl M. Grijalva, Alcee L. Hastings, Jahana Hayes, Jared Huffman, Sheila Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr., Marcy Kaptur, William R. Keating, Joseph P. Kennedy, III, Daniel T. Kildee, Ann McLane Kuster, Conor Lamb, John B. Larson, Susie Lee, Andy Levin, Alan Lowenthal, Tom Malinowski, Carolyn B. Maloney, Doris Matsui, James P. McGovern, Grace Meng, Joseph D. Morelle, Jerrold Nadler, Grace F. Napolitano, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Chellie Pingree, Mark Pocan, Ayanna Pressley, David E. Price, Jamie Raskin, Lucille Roybal-Allard, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Bobby L. Rush, Tim Ryan, Linda T. Sánchez, Mary Gay Scanlon, David Scott, Donna E. Shalala, Mikie Sherrill, Darren Soto, Jackie Speier, Thomas R. Suozzi, Mark Takano, Rashida Tlaib, Norma J. Torres, Lori Trahan, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Jennifer Wexton, Susan Wild, and Frederica S. Wilson.
A signed copy of the letter is available HERE.