When Will California Officials Stand Up for Nursing Home Residents?

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This was another tragic week for California nursing home residents. The curve inside nursing homes is spiking instead of flattening and a growing number of residents are continuing to suffer and die alone. CANHR grieves for each of them and all of their loved ones.

How can it be that a state that has done so much to protect the general population during the pandemic has done so little to protect the lives of its most vulnerable citizens who live in nursing homes? Seemingly at every turn, California has taken steps that protect the nursing home industry rather than nursing home residents. More lives will be needlessly lost unless state officials immediately change course and take vital actions to protect residents.

There are lessons to be learned on changing course. One source is new findings by the World Health Organization (WHO) that are the subject of a remarkable April 23 article in the Washington Post: Nursing homes linked to up to half of coronavirus deaths in Europe, WHO says. Top WHO officials described the staggering death toll in European nursing homes as an “unimaginable human tragedy” that may have been caused by focusing on hospitals while allowing the pandemic to rage among the most vulnerable living in long term care facilities.

As some California communities reported this week that all or almost all of their COVID-19 related deaths involved long term care facility residents, many voices called for California officials to move in new directions to save residents’ lives. None did so more powerfully than the Mercury News, which called out Governor Newsom in a bluntly titled editorial: Newsom must end cover-up of COVID-19 nursing home deaths. The editorial board called on the Governor to stop the stonewalling of data on outbreaks and deaths in facilities and to reject operators’ outrageous demands that he grant them immunity from liability during this crisis.

Protecting profiteering nursing home operators is nothing new in California, so it is no surprise that the nursing home and assisted living industries felt comfortable teaming up to push for a free pass to commit elder abuse during the middle of a pandemic. The California Department of Public Health (CPDH) – the state agency that regulates nursing homes – is notorious for its inept oversight, its submission to bad actors and its constant silence in the face of gross abuses and neglect of nursing home residents. For all practical purposes, CDPH is a pawn of the nursing home industry.

Thus, leadership in changing course must come from somewhere else, especially from the Governor and the California Legislature. CANHR has given them an emergency action plan with urgently needed actions that could make a world of difference. We call again on all of California’s leaders to put nursing home residents’ interests first and to deploy all available resources in ways that will help save their lives and their dignity.