February 01,2019

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Wyden: Extreme Cold Poses Threats to Nursing Home Residents

As Trump Administration Seeks to Weaken Emergency Preparedness Standards, Nursing Homes Across Country Evacuated Due to Emergencies in Deadly Weather

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today warned that the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back emergency preparedness standards for nursing homes endanger seniors who rely on these facilities to keep them safe in extreme weather, including this week’s “polar vortex.” Late last year, Wyden released Sheltering in Danger, a report that examined safety failures at nursing homes during hurricanes and found that these long-term care facilities were not equipped to keep their residents safe during natural disasters and other emergencies.

“Extreme weather of every kind – wildfires, hurricanes and subzero temperatures – put nursing home residents at risk when facilities are unprepared to deal with emergency situations,” Wyden said. “Instead of providing guidance that would help nursing homes properly prepare for emergencies, the Trump administration is making it easier to skimp on the training and planning that could save seniors’ lives.”

“As extreme weather events become more frequent and more severe due to climate change, it is especially important that care facilities are prepared to adapt to these new conditions,” Wyden added.

Wyden’s letter, sent to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, comes as much of the U.S. is contending with subzero temperatures that are life-threatening for people of all ages, but especially the elderly, who are particularly susceptible to extreme temperatures. There have been multiple reports of nursing home evacuations due to lapses in electricity and natural gas services. If evacuations are not carefully planned and executed, they can be dangerous to the health of senior citizens.

 Wyden’s letter today also notes that CMS has yet to respond to previous concerns he raised in November 2018 about CMS’ proposed rollback of nursing home safety standards, and the agency’s failed commitments to update emergency preparedness guidelines that nursing homes rely on to plan ahead.  The administration has proposed to weaken requirements for how often nursing home emergency preparedness plans must be renewed and the frequency and quality of staff training for emergencies.

Wyden’s report, released in November 2018, provides one of the most comprehensive reviews to date of the incidents at Texas long-term care facilities during Hurricane Harvey and at Hollywood Hills following Hurricane Irma. The report also examines regulations issued by CMS meant to ensure long-term care providers like nursing homes are prepared for emergency conditions. The report found that these rules are inadequate when it comes to giving nursing homes the direction they need to be prepared in emergency situations. Wyden’s report contains 18 recommendations for improved safety—none of which CMS has acknowledged or acted upon.

The full letter can be found here.