Rep. Trahan, Sen. Markey hit nursing homes in Facebook Live broadcast

U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan teamed up with Sen. Ed Markey for a Facebook Live Broadcast on Wednesday where they discussed the need for oversight at nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic. The pair also detailed their support of the $3.3 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. AARON CURTIS/LOWELL SUN
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LOWELL — U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan and Sen. Ed Markey held a Facebook Live broadcast to discuss the need for increased oversight at nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as their support of the $3.3 trillion coronavirus relief package unveiled Tuesday.

Markey began the roughly 30-minute broadcast Wednesday by referencing numbers released by the state Department of Public Health that, as of Wednesday, shows approximately 60 percent of the 5,315 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Massachusetts have occurred at long-term care facilities.

“There is something wrong,” Markey said. “We know there hasn’t been enough work done in order to protect them.”

For instance, The Sun published a story Thursday stating about 82% of the COVID-19 deaths in Lowell happened at nursing homes.

During their discussion, Markey and Trahan targeted the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley, based in Littleton, where 16 residents and one nurse — Maria Krier, of Lunenburg — have died of the virus.

Trahan has been critical of Life Care Centers of America, which operates the Littleton facility, stating the nursing home company was not transparent with government officials when COVID-19 initially took hold at the location.

The National Guard was also called out to the Palm Center nursing home in Chelmsford, where the social director recently died of COVID-19.

In the past, Trahan said she, local health officials and elected representatives had to “cobble together” reports from area hospitals and firefighters to learn of the severity of the problem at Life Care in Littleton.

On Wednesday’s broadcast, Trahan referenced LCCA’s operation of Life Care Centers in Kirkland, Washington, which became the first nursing home in the nation to report the presence of the virus and is linked to at least 37 deaths stemming from the outbreak.

“When you have a network like that, when you are a national company, you have the economies of experience,” Trahan said. “That’s your advantage. And they didn’t use that experience and equip all their other facilities in Massachusetts and beyond.”

Last month, Tim Killian, a spokesman for LCCA, stressed the Littleton facility has been following guidelines from state and federal officials since the beginning of the outbreak. Life Care has also carried out phone call updates with the Board of Health and Littleton officials.

Trahan said there needs to be communication relayed to health officials and representatives if there’s an outbreak at any nursing homes or long-term care facility nationwide. She added agencies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have an obligation to oversee such facilities to ensure they are enforcing protocols and safety precautions.

Markey said he and fellow Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren are working toward increasing oversights and “making sure the health care workers get the resources they need,” including personal protective equipment.

“We did not have enough PPE to arm our front lines,” Trahan said. “When you think about Maria Krier, she died on our front lines in our mind. I equate that to we would never send military men or women into battle without the gear and the equipment they need, and yet that happened. It exposed huge supply gaps in our supply chain here in the U.S.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. received much of its medical supplies from China. But China limited exports earlier this year due to its own fight against the virus, which began there. When the federal stockpile ran short, states that had only minimal supplies were left scrambling to try to buy needed equipment.

Trahan stressed a need to get medical supply manufacturing back within U.S. borders.

“I don’t want us to be reliant on a foreign supply chain,” she said. “I want to make sure we bring those jobs here to the United States, and that we, the federal government, partners with medical device companies so we can have enough to ensure our public health.”

Trahan and Markey also took time to review  the Democrats’ $3.3 trillion Heroes Act, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled on Tuesday.

Trahan said she is soon headed to Washington to vote in favor of the package, which has nearly $1 trillion built in for states and cities to avert layoffs. The aid package also focuses $375 billion for smaller suburban and rural municipalities largely left out of earlier bills.

Like the previous $2 trillion CARES Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 27, the latest coronavirus relief package would offer a fresh round of $1,200 direct cash aid to individuals. That total would be increased to up to $6,000 per household. The package would also launch a $175 billion housing assistance fund to help pay rents and mortgages.

“We’ve been at this for eight weeks,” Trahan said. “People are struggling.”

The relief package also has $75 billion more for virus testing.

“It’s not just about putting the open sign on the business,” Trahan said. “It’s about consumers having confidence to be patrons at those businesses again. Until we have a vaccine we need to give people assurance that there is a testing infrastructure in place.

“These draconian measures of just shutting everything down,” she later added. “it needn’t be that way if we invest in testing, and tracing and isolating so we can contain the virus more quickly and still have parts of our economy and parts of our state reopen.”

Trahan and Markey criticized members of the Republican party — namely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — for their stated disregard for the relief package. Media reports suggest the relief bill will be blocked in the Senate.

McConnell and other Republicans are wary of another round of relief aid, according to reports. McConnell declared the proposal a grab bag of “pet priorities” and is not something that “deals with reality.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis