White House scrambles on nursing homes as COVID-19 surges

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House, Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House, Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – Fearing another grim wave of nursing home deaths as COVID-19 cases rebound, President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his administration will provide $5 billion to help facilities counter the virus.

The move follows Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's recent unveiling of a family caregiver plan that aims to greatly expand and subsidize alternatives to institutional care for frail older adults. Both men are competing for seniors' votes against a backdrop of eroding political support for Trump among older Americans.

“I want to send a message of support and hope to every senior citizen," Trump said at the White House. “The light is starting to shine and we will get there very quickly.”

The $5 billion announced Wednesday is part of a package, including efforts to facilitate ongoing testing of nursing home staff, providing states a weekly list of facilities with increased COVID-19 cases, and offering additional training and support for the homes. Nursing homes in hotspots will get priority for the new funds.

Advocates and industry have been pressing the administration and Congress for weeks to provide more financial assistance and support for nursing homes. An earlier White House recommendation to test all residents and staff has had mixed results. Nursing homes already have received $4.9 billion from pandemic relief funds approved by Congress.

The American Health Care Association, an industry group, welcomed the White House announcement but said more aid is needed for nursing homes as well as other long-term care facilities.

Experts have testified to Congress that once the coronavirus is spreading within a community, it's just a matter of time before it enters nursing homes. Staffers can be the unwitting carriers.

Once inside, the virus encounters ideal conditions to propagate among medically frail residents living in close quarters. States like Florida and Arizona now seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases are trying to head off a repeat of high numbers of nursing home deaths earlier in states like New Jersey and Massachusetts.