Blood on Trump's hands: The nursing home crisis is the president’s fault

Blood on Trump's hands: The nursing home crisis is the president’s fault
President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House COVID-19 Coronavirus task force, delivers remarks and answers questions from members of the press Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

The very first COVID-19 outbreak in the US took place in a Kirkland, Washington nursing home more than four months ago, at the end of February. At least 37 people died.

That first outbreak should have been the impetus for the Trump administration to launch a coordinated national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, centered around protecting nursing home residents and workers. Instead, they’ve focused on protecting nursing home corporations from lawsuits.

When the White House brings up the nursing home crisis at all, it’s to seek to shift the blame to Democratic governors. Trump is desperate to deflect from the truth: Over 54,000 nursing home residents and workers are dead. Those deaths were preventable. Their deaths are Donald Trump’s fault.

A new report from the Senate Aging Committee lays out the Trump administration failures that led to the nursing home crisis. Trump never had a plan to protect nursing home residents. In fact, the actions his administration did take, put seniors and people with disabilities directly in the path of the deadly pandemic.

For months, as nursing home workers faced a devastating shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and tests, Trump refused to invoke the Defense Production Act. Nor did he leverage FEMA’s response capabilities to target supplies to nursing homes.

An opaque and corrupt program, run by the president’s inexperienced, unqualified son-in-law, tasked to deliver critically needed PPE not surprisingly failed miserably to help anybody, except perhaps Trump’s political donors. FEMA continues to deliver broken and unusable equipment to nursing homes even as the unrelenting death toll in nursing homes grows.

Simply telling nursing homes to test workers and residents more often, as the administration has done, is meaningless. What’s needed is an actual plan to procure additional tests and get them to the facilities that need them. This late in the pandemic, that plan is still missing.

In March and April, Congress allocated $175 billion in emergency funding for health care providers in the front lines of the pandemic. It was the Trump administration’s responsibility to distribute that funding as quickly and efficiently as possible. But it took two months for the administration to distribute any of the funding to nursing homes—and then only a paltry $19.5 billion.

Nursing home workers are at the front lines of the crisis. Across the country, nursing homes have seen staffing shortages, forcing them to hire part timers who work in multiple facilities. Employees who remain are often forced to work while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, further spreading the disease. This is exacerbated by the fact that even before COVID-19, private equity barons had seized on the long term care industry as a sector they could hollow out, carve up and destroy for profit.

We need to increase staffing levels by providing premium hazard pay. We must guarantee paid sick leave for all nursing home workers. Workers who need to quarantine should be provided with temporary housing so they don’t infect their families. The Trump administration has proposed none of this, because their anti-worker ideology takes precedence over public health.

The right-wing deflection operation is well underway. The Trump White House and Senator Mitch McConnell understand that the nursing home crisis is political kryptonite. They don’t care about the lives lost; Indeed, they never mention them. Instead, they care only about the bad headlines and the plummeting support among seniors for Trump and Republicans.

Starting with the official propaganda organ of the Trump White House, FOX News, and filtering down through shadowy networks of dark money used to spread unchecked lies on Facebook, their playbook is clear: Deflect responsibility, blame Democratic governors, and lie about the failures of the president and his administration.

Chief White House strategist and mouthpiece Sean Hannity can be seen in this clip laying out the whole strategy for “dealing with” the nursing home crisis. Hannity heaps praise on Florida Republican Governor DeSantis while blaming, among others, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer for her state’s nursing home crisis. He goes so far as to say that the media needs to apologize to Gov. DeSantis for criticizing his rush to “reopen” the state.

Like so much else Trump does, this strategy is based on a lie. Public health experts and local senior advocacy groups agree that Whitmer did a very effective job in a terrible situation, while Gov. DeSantis’s state of Florida is ineffectively confronting an explosion of new cases and dwindling hospital beds.

To end the nursing home crisis, we need a robust system of testing and tracking. We need a system in place to make sure that every facility has PPE, tests, and adequate staffing. We need measures in place to reduce the overall spread of COVID-19, including a national mandate to wear masks in public places. Most of all, we need an administration that values the lives of people over the profits of corporations.

Recently, one of Trump’s top economic advisors, Stephen Moore, suggested that we should allow every business (including high risk environments like bars and gyms) to reopen. He insisted this would be safe so long as we “keep older people in quarantine because they're the ones susceptible from dying.” While Dan Patrick, Trump ally and Lt. Governor of Texas, another state with an exploding epidemic, said that seniors should sacrifice themselves to protect the economy.

It’s this cavalier attitude towards seniors’ lives that led to the nursing home crisis. Older people should not have to quarantine themselves forever, cut off from their families and friends, because the Trump administration is too incompetent to contain the pandemic. Nor would it even work for them to do so. Over 64 million Americans live in multi-generational households. And even if no nursing home patient ever left, or had visitors, workers still go in and out.

What Moore and Patrick are saying, and the philosophy behind Trump’s entire response to the pandemic, is that he thinks that seniors’ lives—as well as the lives of people with disabilities, people who are immunocompromised, and others who are at high risk from COVID-19— are disposable.

Trump’s failure to contain the nursing home crisis is a product of his values. He values nursing home corporations, which don’t want to get sued. He values Wall Street billionaires, who are demanding that every business reopen regardless of public health. He does not value seniors’ lives. He is more than happy to volunteer them to be sacrificed on the altar of Wall Street’s greed.

This is all Donald Trump’s fault. The blood is on his hands.

Alex Lawson is the Executive Director of Social Security Works, the convening organization of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition — a coalition made up of over 340 national and state organizations representing over 50 million Americans.


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