Senators Collins, Casey Lead Congress’ First Hearing on COVID-19’s Devastating Impact on Seniors

Older adults account for 80 percent of COVID-19 fatalities, while residents and workers in nursing homes and other long-term care settings represent more than one-third of all COVID-19 deaths.


Click HERE to read Senator Collins’ opening statement

Click HERE to read Senator Casey’s opening statement

Washington, D.C.—Today, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Bob Casey, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Aging Committee, convened Congress’ first hearing on the devastating, disproportionate toll the coronavirus pandemic is having on seniors, particularly those that reside in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. 

 

Adults ages 65 years and older represent two out of every five hospitalizations and eight out of every 10 deaths from the virus.  Those in nursing homes and group care settings are especially at risk.  Nationwide, residents and workers in nursing homes and other long-term care settings represent more than one-third of all COVID-19 deaths. 

 

Today’s hearing, titled, “Caring for Seniors Amid the COVID-19 Crisis,” explored what can be done to better protect this vulnerable population.  Senators heard testimony from a panel of experts who are supporting older adults in hospitals, nursing homes, home health settings, and the community. 

 

“COVID-19 has brought tremendous hardship and tragedy, placing a heavy burden on the frontline workers, straining our healthcare and distribution systems, and imposing a deadly toll on our seniors in particular,” said Senator Collins.  “Those in nursing homes and congregate care centers are especially at risk.  Nationwide, nursing home residents represent one-third of all coronavirus deaths.  In Maine, the toll on nursing home residents is even higher.”

 

“Our nation is facing the greatest public health crisis it has seen in a century. This terrible virus is causing death and destruction at lightning speed, especially among older Americans who are most vulnerable for complications from COVID-19,” said Senator Casey. “We have added unprecedented amounts of funding to purchase personal protective equipment, testing and ensure seniors in the community have access to home and community-based services that keep them out of congregate settings, but this is not nearly enough. We cannot stop working we cannot stop legislating, we cannot stop appropriating dollars to help our seniors.”

 

Dr. Tamara Konetzka, a professor of health services research at the University of Chicago, shared the results of her work to untangle factors associated with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on nursing home residents and staff.  She spoke to the need for regular and rapid testing of all long-term care facility residents and staff, adequate staffing, and the importance of making personal protective equipment (PPE) available to workers. Dr. Kontezka also testified about the importance of ensuring access to home and community-based services during the pandemic, to help older adults avoid the need to secure care in congregate settings.

 

As the chief infectious disease specialist for New York University, Dr. Mark J. Mulligan oversees the treatment of COVID-19 patients at the University’s health system hospitals.  He explained that seniors are at increased risk due to aging-related decline of the immune system as well as chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, and that older adults who reside in nursing homes are the most vulnerable.

 

“For physicians, scientists, and leaders, the virus has continued to humble us.  There’s so much we don’t know yet about diagnosis, prevention, and treatment,” said Dr. Mulligan.  “The nurses and doctors I have worked with are incredibly dedicated and caring, but they have not had the medical countermeasures needed to effectively help many vulnerable seniors who have died of this disease.”

 

Dr. Mulligan provided an overview of the medical countermeasures under development—diagnostics, monoclonal antibodies, and potential treatments such as remdesivir. 

 

Dr. Steven Landers, the President and CEO of Visiting Nurse Association Health Group who oversees a team of 3,000 caregivers that cares for 9,000 people daily, provided a home health perspective on the public health crisis. 

 

“I have never seen the system so strained, but I also have never felt more proud of the skilled, compassionate, and courageous people I work with,” said Dr. Landers.

 

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