WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) announced today that they will introduce companion legislation in the Senate to H.R. 6698, the Quality Care for Nursing Home Residents and Workers During COVID-19 Act. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky introduced the bill in the House of Representatives yesterday.

This legislation protects the health and well-being of those living and working in nursing homes by increasing infection control and prevention, testing, and personal protective equipment; surging funding for strike teams to the hardest hit nursing homes; mandating transparency and reporting of COVID-19 cases and fatalities; and requiring the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to conduct better oversight, including inspections and guidance.

At least 20,000 nursing home residents and workers have died during the current COVID-19 crisis, accounting for nearly 30 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. In New Jersey, nearly 2,000 nursing home residents have died due to COVID-19, according to local news reports.

But because CMS has yet to implement data collection, we still do not know the full extent of COVID-19 cases and fatalities among residents or the workers who care for them.

“In New Jersey and across the country, nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been devastated by COVID-19. Nursing home residents are already high-risk populations especially vulnerable to the virus, and many nursing home staff still don’t have access to adequate personal protective equipment – that is unacceptable and demands urgent action,” said Senator Booker. “Our bill will ensure that nursing home workers have access to the training, tools, and resources they need to keep themselves safe and care for the health and well-being of their residents. It will also facilitate virtual visitations for family members of residents as well as demand greater transparency and oversight of nursing homes. Nursing home residents and their families deserve to have the peace of mind that they are safe and cared for.”

“This bill introduces new standards to ensure the safety of nursing home residents, protect the workers who heroically care for them, and guarantee much needed transparency,” said Senator Blumenthal. “It also expands residents’ ability to virtually connect with loved ones, alleviating the loneliness and uncertainty that has accompanied this crisis. We can and must do more to protect our most vulnerable members of society, and this bill a first step in the right direction.”

“The COVID-19 crisis in our nation’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities is a national tragedy that demands a comprehensive response. This legislation will finally offer that to the millions of the older Americans, individuals with disabilities, and dedicated workers who rely on nursing homes for their lives and livelihoods,” said Congresswoman Schakowsky. “Over the past several months, we have failed to adequately protect our nation’s nursing homes from COVID-19 thousands of residents and staff have unnecessarily died. I urge all of my colleagues in the House and Senate to support the inclusion of this bill in the next coronavirus relief package.”

Specifically, the Quality Care for Nursing Home Residents and Workers During COVID-19 Act would immediately address our inadequate response to the COVID-19 crisis in our nursing homes by guaranteeing:

  • QUALITY OF CARE: Requires facilities to employ a full-time infection preventionist; ensure adequate numbers of staff to assist residents in making weekly “virtual visits;” allow residents the right to return if they leave during the COVID-19 crisis; and obtain sign-off from residents or representatives for transfer or discharge.
  • WORKER SAFETY: Requires facilities to provide comprehensive worker training around COVID-19, sufficient PPE, and at least two weeks of paid sick leave for all employees.
  • INCREASED TESTING: Requires weekly testing for residents and daily pre-shift testing for staff, or screenings until sufficient tests become available.
  • TRANSPARENCY: Requires facilities to report COVID-19 cases, including demographic information, all COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 fatalities, PPE available and projected need, staffing, and testing data every 24 hours; requires facilities to inform residents, their representatives, and workers within 12 hours of a death or confirmed case; and requires CDC and CMS to coordinate to publicly post COVID-19 data online.
  • STRIKE TEAMS: Authorizes $500 million for states to establish expert strike teams for resident and worker safety to be deployed within 72 hours of three or more confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases in a facility.
  • INFECTION CONTROL: Requires state survey agencies to ensure surveyors have adequate PPE and conduct an inspection within 72 hours if ratio of fatalities to confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases exceeds 5 percent.
  • RESIDENT RIGHTS: Requires CMS to establish criteria for facility to be designated as COVID-19-only, to develop a plan to address complaint surveys that have been paused during the emergency, and to reinstitute pre-pandemic requirements as soon as possible.
  • IMPROVED CONGREGATE LIVING: Requires the Secretary to issue public recommendations to congregate living facilities outside CMS jurisdiction around virtual visits, worker safety, and infection prevention.

Endorsing organizations of this legislation include: the Alliance for Retired Americans; California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform; Center for Medicare Advocacy; Gray Panthers; Justice in Aging; Long Term Care Community Coalition; the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare; National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care; Public Citizen; Service Employees International Union (SEIU); Shriver Center on Poverty Law; Social Security Works; Western Center on Law & Poverty.