By Steve Moran

This should be HUGE nursing home news. This should be HUGE senior housing news. And yet . . .hardly a peep from anyone. 

On June 11, 2020, the Wall Street Journal published an explosive article titled “How New York’s Coronavirus Response Made the Pandemic Worse.” (This article may be behind a paywall.) I expected to see it referenced all over the news cycle over the weekend and it has been crickets.

Grim Death Toll

“From early March through April, three New York hospital systems had a combined 4,639 deaths from COVID-19.” Three hospital systems in New York City so, presumably there were additional deaths in other hospital systems. Contrast this with 4,813 deaths from COVID-19 in all the nursing homes in NEW YORK STATE. 

Keystone Cops

For this article, the WSJ reporters talked to nearly “90 front-line doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, hospital administrators, and government officials.” Then they did a big document dig. Here are some of the things they found:

  • There were many improper patient transfers
  • There were insufficient isolation protocols, meaning they were mixing COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 suffers on the same wards or wings
  • Even while there was adequate staffing available, it was deployed poorly resulting in not enough providers to give adequate care 
  • There was poor planning that left staff with inadequate protective equipment and testing

Pathetic — Part One

The article then goes on to quote leader after leader on the hospital side and in government. In every case, the response was some form of “we did a great job” or “we did all that was humanly possible.” This in spite of overwhelming evidence that the government and the hospitals had significant fails.

Because of those fails, people died who should not have died. People got sick who should not have gotten sick.

Pathetic — Part Two

Every skilled nursing facility and every senior living community in the country and every resident in each of those has been, to a greater or lesser degree, betrayed by federal and state governments. Adding fuel to the fire, every mainstream media outlet in the country has betrayed the sacred trust this nation has to protect and respect our elders.

Our Response is All Wrong . . . with One Exception

I have been watching with keen interest the way we have responded. It looks something like this:

  • Lots of celebration of heroes in the field
  • Lots of stories about how life enrichment people pivoted in an instant to reprogram for residents
  • Some stories of providers spending extraordinary efforts to obtain PPE for team members
  • A number of efforts to collect and tell stories about how we served residents in this extraordinary time of crisis
  • Lots of letters from trade associations asking for, pleading for, begging for more help

There is nothing wrong with any of those things except they seem to not do very much to move the needle. You might argue the needle has been moved with some extraordinary payments to nursing homes and some very limited access to more PPE.

But those are gap solutions that do not address the bigger issue that this country is failing our older residents.

The one exception is Katie Smith Sloan, the President & CEO of LeadingAge, who is regularly pointing the finger and telling how the federal government is at fault.

Even Stronger

If we want to get serious about fixing this, we need a stronger, more emotional message. What if we started telling stories like this.

“This is a picture of Sam Smith who was living in my nursing home but we could not get adequate PPE because of government inaction. If the government had done what was right for nursing home residents, Sam would be alive and his family would not be mourning him today. We cannot, we must not allow this to happen again.”


“This is Gloria Johnson. She was a nurse at ACME nursing home and she died of COVID-19. She died because she did not have the protective gear she needed. She died trying to serve the most frail residents. She was a single mom, and when she died, she left behind three young children. She will never be able to watch them go to the prom or graduate from high school. She will not be there when her daughter gets married. She will never hold her grandkids in her arms.”

To be clear, these are made up stories, but there are real stories like this hundreds, no, thousands of them. If we want to really make it better we need to be putting these stories in front of lawmakers and regulators. We need to be putting these stories in front of the press.

I Don’t Know

Is it within us and our capacity to tilt the world on its side in favor of older people and senior living? It would be an utterly amazing experience for residents, families, and team members.   

I don’t know if we have the courage to do the really hard stuff.

I don’t know if we have the courage to tell these hard stories.

I know we can, but I don’t know if we will.