AARP calls for immediate, mandatory COVID-19 testing in Iowa care facilities

AARP Iowa wants added protection and testing for Iowa seniors living in nursing homes. (Photo by Geber86/E+ via Getty Images)

AARP Iowa says it is “outraged” by 11 COVID-19 deaths at an Iowa nursing home where symptomatic employees worked alongside vulnerable seniors. The organization is calling for immediate, mandatory testing in all of the state’s nursing home and assisted living facilities.

Iowa Capital Dispatch reported earlier this week about employment conditions and infections at the Dubuque Specialty Care home in eastern Iowa. AARP Iowa responded Thursday that the situation calls for action.

“AARP Iowa is outraged,” the organization said in a written statement. “Everyone should be … This is not the first report we’ve seen with high numbers of resident deaths, and tragically it will likely not be the last. This outrage should prompt immediate state action to direct nursing home and other long-term care facilities to implement mandatory testing.”

Eleven residents of Dubuque Specialty Care have died of COVID-19, according to the state, and 43 residents of the home have been infected. The home currently has about 48 residents.

According to the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, inspectors visited the home the first week of June. In addition to finding that three symptomatic employees had been allowed to work in the home shortly before testing positive for COVID-19, the inspectors observed employees working without personal protective equipment.

Gov. Kim Reynolds was asked about the Dubuque situation Thursday and said she wasn’t sure when she was “made aware of it, but I am aware of it, and it’s just something that shouldn’t happen … I do want to reiterate, though, in the context of this, that there are a lot of long-term care facilities that are doing a phenomenal job.”

Asked about the legislation she signed into law on June 18 granting nursing homes and other care providers immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits, she said, “We want to make sure that we have doctors and nurses and care facilities that are willing to provide these critical services and we want to make sure businesses feel confident in opening back up … The bill also has appropriate exemptions that still permits some lawsuits for reckless or willful misconduct and so I think it strikes a balance that it needs to.”

Critics of the legislation have warned that the bill sets a higher standard than mere reckless disregard for patient safety. The law grants immunity unless the situation involves an act that was “intended to cause harm” or “constitutes actual malice,” or involves in-patient hospitalization or death.

Reynolds said her office and the Iowa Department of Public Health have “worked extensively with our long-term care facilities to just provide proper guidance and training and PPE and have done that from the beginning.”

Iowa’s official “Testing Guidance,” which is part of the state’s “Guidance on Phased Easing of Restrictions for Long-Term Care Facilities” is, AARP Iowa noted, “just guidance, with no clear-cut requirements” for testing of staff or residents at those facilities.

“The lack of input from any consumer, resident, or employee group in this non-requirement is apparent,” the association said. “AARP Iowa calls for immediate, mandatory testing for staff and residents in all nursing home and long-term care facilities across the state.”

AARP Iowa noted that 356 Iowa nursing home residents’ deaths are directly related to COVID-19 and represent 52% of the total documented COVID-19-deaths in Iowa.

“The sad fate of so many vulnerable adults and staff in long-term care facilities is both heartbreaking and infuriating,” said AARP Iowa State Director Brad Anderson. “Setting up and implementing a comprehensive plan for testing of staff and residents is among the essential steps necessary to address the current COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes.”

The association suggested the following protocols:

  • Mandated testing based on most recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
  • Immediate testing of residents and staff after one documented positive case is identified.
  • Requirements for all nursing home and other long-term care facility staff to wear appropriate personal protective equipment.

“If funding and availability are issues for either testing or PPE, the public deserves to understand what, where, and why,” the association said. “The public has a right to know where and how previously appropriated federal tax dollars, CARES Act funds, and other dollars have been allocated and spent for Iowa’s long-term care facilities.”

With 38 million members, AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy for people 50 and older.

Dubuque Specialty Care is owned and managed by Care Initiatives, a West Des Moines corporation that owns 44 Iowa care facilities. The company reported $188 million in revenue in 2018.  CEO Miles King was paid a total of $669,00 in compensation that year. The company is a tax-exempt 501c3 organization, and is considered a charity by the Internal Revenue Service.

Nationally, more than 50,000 residents and workers at nursing homes and other care facilities have died from COVID-19. They accounts for 40% of all the virus-related deaths nationally.

 

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.