More Coronavirus Resources for Nursing Homes

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As a novel coronavirus, many characteristics of COVID-19 have taken time and research to uncover. One aspect of it has been clear from the beginning, however: it poses the most danger to the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.

Nursing home residents are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus as a result. They are most likely to be in that risk category, and living in a group environment gives a contagious disease such as COVID-19 opportunity to spread.

Adequate testing in nursing homes is vital for the protection of our seniors. To that end, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on July 14 a plan for the large-scale procurement of tests to be distributed to nursing homes in coronavirus hot spots. These tests will be rapid point-of-care diagnostic tests, meaning that specimens can be analyzed in the facility instead of being shipped to a lab.

Fast on-site testing will help limit the spread of the coronavirus in nursing homes. It will also contribute to the resumption of visits from loved ones. Many nursing homes have restricted visits, contributing to the hardship imposed by the coronavirus on the seniors in these facilities.

I applaud this step by the Trump Administration to protect nursing home residents. Rapid point-of-care testing will benefit the health of these residents and staff and provide reassurance to their loved ones.

Suicide Prevention

Suicide is a tragically common cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48,000 people died of suicide in this country in 2018, the most recent year for which statistics were available. This amount produced a suicide death every eleven minutes, and it does not include the number of people who attempted or planned to take their own life but did not.

The CDC also notes that suicide rates are higher in rural areas of the country than they are in urban areas, and the gap has grown in recent decades. It constitutes a public health problem that is felt close to home.

In the Roanoke area, the death of Louis Tudor, former owner of Tudor’s Biscuit World in the City of Roanoke, was widely felt. I knew Louis through swimming. For more than three decades, I was behind him in the pool in races. I was deeply saddened to learn of this tragedy.

Because of the significant number of suicide deaths in this country, Congress passed and President Trump signed in 2018 the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, a bill that had originated in the House Energy and Commerce Committee on which I serve. This law recognizes that an easy-to-remember number similar to 911 would be a great aid in helping more people quickly access help to prevent suicide.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on July 16 acted to carry out the law, designating 988 as a nationwide three-digit number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Phone service providers have a transition period until July 16, 2022 to direct all 988 calls to this hotline, so until then, anyone in need of its services should dial 1-800-273-TALK.

I am pleased to see the FCC implement the law, but more work to prevent suicide can be done at the legislative level. An Energy and Commerce Committee markup on July 15 unanimously advanced several more bills with this goal in mind.

These bills included:

-H.R. 4564, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline Improvement Act of 2019, to authorize more funding for the hotline and create a pilot program to study suicide prevention techniques;

-H.R. 4585, the Campaign to Prevent Suicide Act, to direct HHS to advertise the new 988 number when it becomes effective and raise awareness of suicide prevention resources;

-H.R. 5619, the Suicide Prevention Act, to establish grant programs to prevent self-harm and suicide; and

-H.R. 4194, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2019, with further stipulations for the new 988 number.

I believe these bills will continue to have strong bipartisan support and advance through the legislative process.

Each suicide death is a tragedy. We can prevent more of them by letting individuals contemplating this course of action know that others are ready to listen, to talk, and to help.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.