March 03,2020

Press Contact:

Taylor Harvey (202) 224-4515 

Wyden Calls on Nursing Homes to Protect Older Americans from Coronavirus

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today issued a statement following news that there have been several deaths linked to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) among seniors, and that the virus has spread within a nursing facility in Washington state. Four residents at the Kirkland, Washington nursing facility have died and four other residents and one employee have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“I have spent my career focused on protecting seniors’ health and welfare. Based on what is currently known, COVID-19 poses a significant health risk to senior citizens and other vulnerable Americans,” Wyden said. “Seniors and people with underlying health conditions appear to be most at risk from COVID-19. With more cases of COVID-19 being diagnosed in the United States, it is imperative that nursing homes and assisted living facilities do everything in their power to protect the older Americans in their care.”

According to the World Health Organization, the risk of mortality from COVID-19 increases with age, with people over the age of 80 being at the highest risk. Other risk factors include underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer.

Wyden has previously investigated nursing home emergency preparedness, examining critical safety failures at nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Texas and Florida during and after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017. The report found that these incidents, which in Florida led to the deaths of 12 seniors, resulted from inadequate regulation and oversight, ineffective planning and communications protocols, and questionable decision-making by facility administrators. The report included a number of recommendations to improve nursing home safety.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires nursing homes to include planning for emerging infectious diseases in their emergency preparedness programs. A fact sheet on COVID-19 can be found here, and tips on prevention, such as washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth and nose with your elbow if you sneeze or cough, can be found here.