Not long ago, HIV-AIDS activists crusaded against the public’s ignoring a lethal infection with the stark saying: Silence=Death. Is it becoming necessary to intone this about the relentless but seemingly tacitly accepted, coronavirus-related mortality, sickness, and suffering of those in long-term care?
As the nation recoils from the deadly insurrectionist attack on Congress and the United States Capitol, a direct line also must be drawn to the huge health harms that President Trump and his administration incited with a flood of falsehoods, relentless attacks on science and expertise, and the reckless politicization of public health.
This administration will leave office with the nation hurtling toward 400,000 coronavirus deaths and 22 million infections. The disease is unchecked. New cases and hospitalizations are breaking records by the instant. The situation is likely to worsen significantly before it improves, experts warn.
The best efforts to battle Covid-19 also — due to a shambolic and too often counter-factual federal response — must combat the misinformation, mistrust, and animus sown during a needlessly destructive presidential term.
Nursing home owners and operators have pleaded “poor us” through a lethal 2020. But profit-seeking players in the industry clearly still see rapacious opportunity in long-term care facilities — with residents suffering the consequences.
NPR and the Washington Post both have dug into the results when investment groups or chains acquire and operate nursing homes, and, as the media organizations reported, resident care declined.
The newspaper focused one of its deep digs on long-term care on New Jersey-based Portopiccolo Group, and how it “buys troubled nursing homes and tries to make them profitable,” paying “hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire facilities in Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere,” with little federal, state, or local oversight of its acquisitions.
Covid-19, unchecked, has killed at least 330,000 Americans and almost 19 million of us have been infected with the disease.
Those numbers likely are underestimated. Based on still tallying “excess deaths” in this country — the higher than expected number of fatalities above the norm and likely due to the coronavirus, the truer toll from Covid-19 as of Dec. 16, likely exceeds 377,000.
Even as medical scientists have detected a new, potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus that also may pose greater risks to children, the high hopes for a faultless roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines are getting tempered with unhappy doses of reality.
Roughly 1 million Americans have been vaccinated already, most with a product from Pfizer and some with a vaccine from Moderna.
That is good news to start. It may, however, also start to raise concerns about the plans to inoculate more than 300 million Americans, many with a two-shot vaccine. That’s because Trump Administration officials had forecast with great confidence in recent days that 20 million Americans would be vaccinated before 2020’s end.
These may be some of the most somber holidays in many Americans’ recent memory. They also may challenge the faithful to translate seasonal religious messages about hope, joy, compassion, and caring for others into practical action, particularly in how the nation treats people who have been battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
While reaching out, past the confines of our homes and health safety measures, and while feasting and enjoying gifts and the merriment of the year’s end, can we also express our gratitude to those whose toil has sustained us through an awful 2020?
Can we say thanks to essential workers — the folks who made the groceries run, who kept big stores humming, who grew, raised, and harvested what we eat, and who made the magic, so endless boxes of needed and desired stuff magically showed up on doorsteps?
The nation now has two potent vaccines to battle the coronavirus pandemic, and the federally approved Covid-19 vaccines are quickly getting into the arms of front-line health workers and vulnerable residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Experts have hailed the speedy arrival of clinically tested vaccines as a turning point in the world’s response to the novel coronavirus.
But will the vaccine roll-out be fast enough and accepted by enough Americans to halt Covid-19’s unchecked savaging of the nation?
With coronavirus infections and deaths rising anew in worrisome fashion from coast to coast, matters could not get worse with the nation’s long-term care, right? Guess again. Profit-mongering and “audacious, widespread fraud” apparently has run amok in hospice care in the Golden State.
Because California, alas, too often serves as a trend-setting locale, patients, their loved ones, clinicians, regulators, and politicians may wish to take heed of an investigation published by the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper reported that too many older, sick, and injured patients have been gulled into signing up for unneeded and undelivered services meant for folks at the end of their lives:
“[M]any [hospice patients] are unwitting recruits [of] unscrupulous providers who bill Medicare for hospice services and equipment for ‘terminally ill’ patients who aren’t dying. Intense competition for new patients — who generate $154 to $1,432 a day each in Medicare payments — has spawned a cottage industry of illegal practices, including kickbacks to crooked doctors and recruiters who zero in on prospective patients at retirement homes and other venues … The exponential boom in providers has transformed end-of-life care that was once the realm of charities and religious groups into a multibillion-dollar business dominated by profit-driven operators. Nowhere has that growth been more explosive, and its harmful side effects more evident, than in Los Angeles County. The county’s hospices have multiplied sixfold in the last decade and now account for more than half of the state’s roughly 1,200 Medicare-certified providers, according to a Times analysis of federal health care data.”
As rough holidays rumble into Americans’ lives, federal lawmakers and regulators seem to be going out of their way to be of disservice to constituents — by quietly skipping crucial inspections of imported toys and other consumer goods or noisily promoting corporate legal immunity while blocking pandemic relief for tens of millions of jobless workers and others desperate for help.
Let’s start with the peril that untold numbers of tiny tots and others may be subject to, due to little-publicized decisions by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). As USA Today reported:
“The federal safety inspectors who protect kids from dangerous and deadly toys were not standing guard for nearly six months while this year’s holiday gifts entered the U.S. by the shipload. Princess palaces and playhouses, water guns and tricycles landed on store shelves and front doorsteps without the usual security checks for lead, chemicals or choking hazards. Government leaders had secretly sent home the nation’s toy police. The Consumer Product Safety Commission pulled its inspectors from ports around the country in mid-March because of the threat of Covid-19. Leaders of the federal agency made the decision in private, without a warning to consumers or full disclosure to Congress, then continued the shutdown at the ports and a government testing laboratory until September, USA TODAY has found. That included spring and summer months that were their inspectors’ busiest last year.”
A growing body of research is better explaining why the novel coronavirus has taken such a terrible toll on communities of color and especially black Americans. The evidence underscores the urgency for the nation to address racial injustice and inequities, particularly in health care.
As the New York Times reported, experts analyzing mountains of data are seeing that “there is no innate vulnerability to the virus among black and Hispanic Americans … Instead, these groups are more often exposed because of social and environmental factors.” The newspaper found this in talking to experts about their multiple, often sizable studies:
“The[ir] new findings do not contradict an enormous body of research showing that black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to be affected by the pandemic, compared with white people. The coronavirus is more prevalent in minority communities, and infections, illnesses and deaths have occurred in these groups in disproportionate numbers … [But among] many other vulnerabilities, black and Hispanic communities and households tend to be more crowded; many people work jobs requiring frequent contact with others and rely on public transportation. Access to health care is poorer than among white Americans, and rates of underlying conditions are much higher. ‘To me, these results make it clear that the disparities in mortality that we see are even more appalling,’ said Jon Zelner, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan who led one of the new studies.”