NEED FOR URGENT ACTION
My passion for being an advocate for our invisible and voiceless elders began long before COVID-19, and emerged from a sad and painful story involving my own family member. The need for action was urgent then, and has become dramatically more so as a result of the systemic dysfunction for elder care laid bare by COVID-19.
I am an academic physician (Associate Professor) at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, with multiple Board certifications and administrative leadership experience, having served as Division Director for many years.
In 2017, I documented heinous abuse of a family member who had severe Alzheimer’s Disease and was residing in a five-star-rated nursing home in Westchester County, New York State.
I discovered this by installing a hidden video camera. This resulted in the NYS Department of Health placing that facility in Immediate Jeopardy, and some—but not all—of the staff involved in the abuse were fired. SOME OF THE ABUSERS STILL ARE WORKING IN THAT NURSING HOME.
Since that incident, this nursing home, like most others in New York state, has forbidden the placement of video cameras in residents’ rooms.
My relative passed away two months after I discovered her abuse. When my relative's suffering ended, I made a promise that her legacy would be the spark she lit in me as a staunch supporter for the elderly and that I would fan the flame she ignited into an inferno of compassion for our elders, ALL elders, but especially those who are extremely vulnerable, without family or external supporters.
To that end, I became a New York State Long-term Care Ombudsman and an advocate for our invisible, vulnerable, voiceless, and wonderful seniors.
My relative’s horrific abuse happened when visitors were on-site; I cannot imagine the abuse that likely is occurring now, as nursing homes have virtually no oversight.
We can—and must—protect members of our Greatest Generation and help ensure a good quality of life for them.
Now, more than ever, our Invisible Elders need to be seen...and protected.
AFTER COVID BECAME A PANDEMIC
ISSUE: LEGAL IMMUNITY FOR NURSING HOMES
UPDATE: ADVOCACY IS WORKING!
In April of 2020, Governor Cuomo and lawmakers approved a state budget that contained a provision affording nursing homes and other health care facilities with a broad legal shield to fend off lawsuits and criminal prosecutions over care provided to all patients during the Pandemic. This immunity applied retroactively to the start of the Pandemic.
In July of 2020, NYS legislators rolled back part of this New York measure, allowing lawsuits unrelated to coronavirus patients to proceed. However, patients and family members still were barred from suing nursing homes and hospitals over care “related to the diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19.” During this period, when families and long-term care ombudsmen were barred from entering facilities, there was virtually no oversight of what was happening in these facilities, a number of which had allegations of abuse, neglect, and substandard care long before the Pandemic.
In April of 2021, Governor Cuomo signed legislation that fully repealed the broad liability protections granted to nursing homes and hospitals in the early days of the Pandemic.
Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblyman Ron Kim championed this repeal bill. On April 6, 2021, the day that the Governor signed off on the legislation, Senator Biaggi tweeted,
“Tonight I am thinking of those who lost loved ones in nursing homes. This moment is thanks to their tireless advocacy and persistence.”
ISSUE: NURSING HOME IMPROVEMENT AND ACCOUNTABILITY
On August 10, 2021, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senate Aging Committee Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA), along with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), introduced the Nursing Home Improvement and Accountability Act of 2021.
This legislation would increase accountability, transparency, and oversight in nursing homes; improve nursing home staffing; and support modernization and innovation in the structure and culture of these facilities.
Select provisions of the Nursing Home Improvement and Accountability Act include:*
Requiring minimum staffing standards based on updated studies
Requiring a Registered Nurse onsite in nursing homes 24 hours/day, 7 days/week
Mandating an Infection Preventionist at least 40 hours per week
Reviewing how the survey and enforcement system can be improved and providing resources to make those improvements
Auditing of skilled nursing facility cost reports
Banning pre-dispute arbitration agreements in nursing homes, HCBS and home health services
Improving data collection and reporting requirements
Enhancing funding through Medicaid to support staff improvements and increase wages and benefits
Establishing a demonstration project to modify nursing home building requirements,
This legislation comes as the Pandemic continues throughout the world. An estimated one in three COVID-19 deaths in the United States reportedly were connected to nursing homes.
A July 2021 report from the HHS Office of the Inspector General states that 71% of the nation’s 15,295 nursing homes have not been surveyed for safety and quality of care issues since the Pandemic began.
Please call or write to your Representatives and Senators to let them know that you support this Bill! Click the buttons below for more information.
ISSUE: PERMITTING ESSENTIAL CAREGIVERS ACCESS TO NURSING HOME RESIDENTS DURING PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCIES
Essential Caregivers Act of 2021 (H.R.3733 — 117th Congress, 2021-2022)
During the COVID-19 pandemic, long-term care facility residents suffered from isolation. Family, friends, essential caregivers, and long-term care ombudsmen were prohibited from entering the facilities these residents called home. As a result, many residents lost the will to live and deteriorated physically and mentally. Numerous residents died alone, without the comforting presence of family or friends.
On June 4, 2021, Rep. Claudia Tenney [R-NY-22] introduced in the House the bipartisan Essential Caregivers Act to fight for the rights of our seniors and others residing in long-term care facilities. This includes young children with developmental disabilities.
Under Federal law, long-term care facility residents have a right to receive visitors, at any time. However, during the Pandemic, this right was abrogated. Residents were not allowed access to those family members and friends who had been assisting with their care prior to the Pandemic. This took an immense toll on the residents.
The Essential Caregivers Act is a bipartisan bill that proposes permitting each resident to designate up to two essential caregivers who would be provided safe and reasonable access to that resident during any future public health emergency. Its purpose is to ensure that our vulnerable seniors and other residents of long-term care facilities will not suffer alone again.
Essential caregivers aren't just visitors; they are, as the term connotes, caregivers who help with activities of daily living and provide vital emotional support and companionship. This aid and support strengthens the overall well-being of residents and forfends the suffering from isolation that we witnessed during the Pandemic lockdown.
The presence and significance of essential caregivers does not negate or reduce the critical importance and roles of facility staff. Essential caregivers complement the crucial care administered by facility staff by providing emotional support and assisting with daily activities not requiring the assistance of trained staff. In addition to enhancing the lives of residents, the presence of essential caregivers benefits facilities, most of which are critically short-staffed, affording facility staff more time to devote to the tasks for which they are specifically trained.
This Bill maintains that strict safety and health standards be established to protect residents, staff, and caregivers. Essential caregivers must comply with the health policies and procedures of the facilities they enter, including requirements for testing, PPE, and social distancing.
Please call or write to your Assembly Members and Senators to let them know that you support this Bill. Click the buttons below to find the legislators for your District, and also to see who is currently co-sponsoring this Bill.
ISSUE: ALLOW NURSING HOME RESIDENTS, THEIR FAMILIES, AND REPRESENTATIVES TO INSTALL VIDEO CAMERAS IN RESIDENTS’ ROOMS