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Lawmakers Call For Investigation Of States' Nursing Home Policies During Pandemic

Updated June 30 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Two members of Congress are calling for an investigation of five states that ordered nursing homes to accept COVID-19-positive patients who were discharged from hospitals. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, both Republicans, are asking Christi Grimm, Principal Deputy Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to determine if the states violated federal health care guidelines and regulations.

The five targeted states are New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California and Michigan. Their orders for nursing homes to accept COVID-19-positive patients from hospitals were controversial from the outset, and were immediately condemned by the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, which represents medical professionals working in long-term care.

The policies were designed to keep hospitals from being overrun with COVID-19 patients. But the lawmakers' letter notes that "although the U.S. Navy sent an entire hospital ship staffed with a crew of 1,200 to treat COVID-19 patients, the 1,000 bed hospital ship departed New York on April 30th, reportedly having treated fewer than 200 during its month-long stay."

The letter notes that nursing homes struggled to control infections long before the coronavirus. A Government Accountability Office study found that "infection prevention and control deficiencies were the most common type of deficiency cited in surveyed nursing homes, with most nursing homes having an infection prevention and control deficiency cited in one or more years from 2013 through 2017."

There are numerous news reports cited in the letter on the high numbers of deaths in nursing homes in the five states. In Pennsylvania, for example, 69% of the deaths from COVID-19 have reportedly been in nursing homes or personal care homes.

Noting that a second wave of coronavirus infections may be coming in the fall, Grassley and Walden ask the Inspector General to complete the study by Sept. 30.

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Corrected: June 30, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon as a U.S. senator.
Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."