The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pledged to support New Jersey nursing homes by assigning additional medical personnel via clinical staffing support teams, following Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s efforts to bolster medical care at the facilities.
The VA will deploy teams consisting of a nurse practitioner, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and nursing aides to help the 500 long-term care facilities in the state currently combating the COVID-19 pandemic. New Jersey has reported 26,000 coronavirus cases in these facilities, with more than 4,900 deaths caused by the disease it causes.
Gottheimer expressed his gratitude to U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie for providing the needed staff.
“We will not beat this virus and flatten the curve if the coronavirus is able to continue to spread like wildfire in our long-term care facilities,” he said.
Successful Bipartisan Drive for Answers
The development followed a bipartisan drive spearheaded by Rep. Gottheimer to determine why the VA denied an original request for help.
“As New Jersey’s long-term care facilities and nursing homes continue battling thousands of coronavirus cases, additional VA support that New Jersey and our congressional delegation have been requesting is absolutely critical to limiting further loss of life and protecting facility residents and staff,”said Gottheimer.
In a letter sent May 8 from members of New Jersey’s Congressional delegation, the lawmakers asked why the VA had deployed up to fifteen teams to Florida through May 21 when the state had less than a third of New Jersey’s cases.
“Given these startling numbers, we respectfully request a justification for why New Jersey’s request for VA medical assistance at long-term care facilities was not granted on the merits. If the VA was unable to fulfill the request due to staffing limitations, please also explain why similar requests for support made by other states were apparently not subject to these limitations,” the letter read.
Nursing Home Pandemic Protection Act of 2020
Rep. Gottheimer and Rep. Chris Smith recently introduced bipartisan legislation May 6 to address to issue via the Nursing Home Pandemic Protection Act of 2020. The legislation was designed to provide residents and their families with information on infections within long-term care facilities.
Additionally, it would codify new federal requirements for nursing homes regarding the reporting of communicable diseases, infections, and potential outbreaks to the CDC. Nursing homes would be required to develop a crisis plan to manage potential outbreaks and to stockpile personal protective equipment (PPE).
“With this new bill, we’re working to ensure facilities are adequately prepared with crisis plans in place, that they’re reporting outbreaks to our nation’s top infectious disease experts, and that residents and their loved ones are regularly updated on conditions inside these homes,” Rep. Gottheimer said.
Bolstering Medical Staff, Addressing Needs
The VA’s pledge fulfilled a request made by Rep. Gottheimer in late April to ensure more adequate staffing at the state’s nursing homes.
“New Jersey desperately needs federal assistance to help disinfect facilities, administer testing, assist with patient care for remaining residents, and perform specific services at these disaster-stricken homes,” he said at the time. “Our state is relying on the federal government for assistance in dealing with this crisis, and I believe that the VA is uniquely equipped to help.”
Additionally, it builds upon an effort spearheaded by Gottheimer and Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., to bring medical expertise from across the nation to the Paramus Veterans Memorial Home. The facility reported 98% of its residents either tested positive for COVID-19, were awaiting results, or were hospitalized as of early May.