WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that nursing homes, which have been ravaged by the coronavirus, had been "a little bit of a weak spot" in the U.S. response to the disease it causes and announced that the government would ship a seven-day supply of gowns and masks to the nation's 15,000 long-term care facilities.
But nursing home residents have accounted for a quarter of the nation's 60,000 reported COVID-19 deaths, and for some industry leaders and advocates for residents, a week's supply of personal protective equipment, or PPE, is not an answer.
"This is the first sign in months that our calls for PPE prioritization for providers of aging services are being heard — but this action is far too little, far too late," said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, an association of 6,000 nonprofit providers of aging services, including 2,000 nursing homes.
Sloan, who was standing in the room when the president made the announcement during a White House event for seniors, said the 7 million surgical masks the Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending to nursing homes will provide only 7.7 masks for each nursing home staff member, when nursing homes need 20 times more PPE than usual. "We need more from the federal government," she said.
The shipments to nursing homes are expected to begin the first week of May and finish by mid-June, according to a coronavirus task force document. Documents about the shipments specify that each facility will receive an allotment of goggles, masks and gowns based on the staffing size of the facility.
The for-profit nursing home industry was also represented at the White House event. A spokesperson told NBC News in an email in response to the announcement, "We appreciate anything we can get."
The shipments, which are intended to "supplement existing PPE efforts by the federal government," will be prioritized for hot spots, with the first shipments sent to New York, northern New Jersey, Boston, Chicago and Detroit. Assisted living facilities, which are home to more than 700,000 elderly Americans and have also been battling coronavirus outbreaks, will not be included.
Sloan said FEMA has told her organization that if there are critical PPE needs, it should contact its local or state public health emergency management agencies to get more help. "The problem that this does not seem to acknowledge is that in fact, our homes have been yelling from the rafters that supplies are needed. WE HAVE!"
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David C. Grabowski, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, said: "Nursing homes need more than seven days of PPE. This is a good short-term stopgap. However, these shipments will have to be continual for this to be even a medium-term solution. Thus, give the federal government credit for recognizing this issue, but I hope this is the start of a larger initiative."
Trump also announced new guidelines for nursing homes Thursday. He said the administration will require nursing homes to report COVID-19 cases to residents and their families, as well as directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He also said testing data at nursing homes will be posted online for everyone to see. In addition, he announced a commission for safety and quality in nursing homes to prevent future outbreaks and provide more funding for nursing home inspections.
Materials sent to reporters after the event did not list any participants' names. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not immediately respond to a request for the names.