Covid-19 Facilities Testimony

Testimony: Hearing on Understanding the Tragedy

The hearing was held on October 13. For more information, including video testimony, visit: Paul Lanzikos can be seen and heard around the 30 minute mark in the first video. Unfortunately, closed captions are not included.

From State Senator Becca Rausch: “As the Senate Vice-Chair of the Elder Affairs Committee, on Tuesday I participated in a hearing entitled: Understanding the Tragedy: Why Did So Many In Our Nursing Homes Die? What Lessons Did We Learn? And Are We Prepared For A Second Surge? We heard from many critical stakeholders, included Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, about our very concerning COVID-19 case and death rates in nursing homes across the state, state actions taken in the spring to reduce cases/deaths, and lessons we learned that we can implement should we see another outbreak in nursing homes. Thank you to the Chairs Senator Pat Jehlen and Representative Ruth Balser for convening this important hearing.

Paul Lanzikos Testimony

Download Paul’s Testimony:

Good afternoon, Senator Jehlen, Representative Balser, and Members of the Committee. My name is Paul Lanzikos and I am representing Dignity Alliance Massachusetts, a statewide coalition of aging and disability service and advocacy organizations and individuals. I have included the roster of our current members who have endorsed this testimony.

Every one of us deserves to live a full life with dignity. No matter what our circumstances may be; what our care and support needs are; how young or old we are; or healthy or infirm we may be, our choices and decisions ought to be honored. As disability rights activists proclaim, “Nothing about us, without us”.

However, Covid-19 has robbed many of that right — more than 6,000 people have already died in Massachusetts nursing homes – one of every six – in just eight months and the toll increases daily. Hundreds more have succumbed to the dangers of extended isolation. Nursing home residents account for two out of three Covid-19-related deaths in the Commonwealth. All of them were mothers, fathers, grandparents, friends, or neighbors. For perspective, that is more than the total population of 116 individual communities in Massachusetts. Imagine walking through Boxborough, Essex, or Provincetown, entirely devoid of any people.

Dignity Alliance Massachusetts has been formed to address the structural and systemic deficiencies which have been exposed by this public health crisis. Dignity Alliance Massachusetts members are committed to advocating the implementation of essential care improvements and the expansion of access to living alternatives that will make the Commonwealth a model of care and living choices, as well as mitigating harm from future communicable disease crises.

There can no longer be any doubt about the urgent need for comprehensive change to the nursing home model as the predominant option of long-term care for older adults and people with disabilities. Not only is a fundamental restructuring of facility operations necessary, but as a coalition of advocates with first-hand experience and well-established expertise, we proclaim that it can be done.

New public policies are urgently required to promote community-based services and housing options while also improving the conditions inside existing nursing homes. Too many residents are vulnerable and at risk while the threat of Covid-19 resurgences remains high. Months of visitation restrictions have made residents de facto inmates, imprisoned for nothing done wrong by them.

Moreover, for many, if not most nursing facility residents, continued, unnecessary institutionalization in a nursing facility is illegal. The Supreme Court has made clear that, under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities is a form of prohibited discrimination. As a result, state governments must provide meaningful access to community services for those unnecessarily confined in, or at serious risk of being admitted to, a nursing facility. ADA cases have already been brought and settled by the Commonwealth on behalf of nursing facility residents with brain injuries and those with intellectual/developmental disabilities, which have resulted in thousands of disabled individuals successfully transitioning to the community. Similar cases could be brought on behalf of nursing facility residents with other disabilities, a significant portion of whom could benefit from integrated community settings.

In response, and to ensure that these conditions are not perpetuated, Dignity Alliance Massachusetts is organized as a broad-based group representing a wide range of stakeholders, including nursing home resident advocates, disability rights organizations, legal service entities, mental health organizations, health policy experts, and many individuals amplifying the voices of frail older adults and persons with disabilities. Our aim is to advance policies that revolutionize long-term care, putting the dignity of individuals – both care receivers and caregivers – first, ensuring privacy and effective infection prevention measures for congregate living situations, affordable options for community living, and providing living wages and benefits for caregivers and service workers in facilities and home and community-based settings.

Dignity Alliance is advocating four actions in the near term.