How to crack down on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes

The first step is to evacuate coronavirus-infected residents from the lowest-rated facilities until the virus is contained or they recover.

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Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker tour a COVID-19 alternate care facility McCormick Place on April 17. Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson argues that residents of poorly run nursing homes who test positive for the virus could be cared for at the facility.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A recent Sun-Times report regarding high numbers of COVID-19 nursing home deaths in Illinois confirms the worst fears of nursing home residents and their families, that the very institutions entrusted to care for their loved ones are putting profits over patient safety. This crisis demands bold action.

The first step to save lives is to evacuate coronavirus-infected residents from the lowest-rated facilities until the virus is contained or they recover. The emergency field hospital at McCormick Place can accept them and provide the specialized care vulnerable seniors urgently need.

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To protect residents remaining in nursing homes, I have asked the Illinois Department of Public Health to conduct investigations, known as Infectious Disease Surveys, at all facilities but prioritize those with the highest incidence of health and safety violations. I’ve also called for the Cook County Department of Public Health to provide technical support to these facilities.

And the state should tap a large portion of the billions it receives from the federal CARES Act to improve conditions for nursing home residents and staff, because the health and safety of the residents goes hand in hand with the health and safety of the workers who care for them.

Thousands of nursing home workers, mostly black and brown women, risk their lives — and the lives of their families — at work every day. They deserve $15 per hour minimum wage, COVID-19 hazard pay, paid sick leave and adequate PPE, which many still lack.

These for-profit corporations must be held accountable. If they cannot clean up their act, the state should consider serious fines or putting the institutions into receivership.

Brandon Johnson
Cook County Commissioner

Convincing conservatives

Is the Sun-Times trying to make me into a conservative? I find I agree with conservative columnists S.E. Cupp and Mona Charen about 95% of the time, especially when they discuss President Trump. But every time I read anything Moscow Mitch McConnell says, I know I’m still a liberal.

Bob (stuck in Florida) Barth, Edgewater

Our rights are non-negotiable

If our inherent and non-negotiable rights are embraced during times of peace, prosperity and health, then they must be embraced and expanded during times of war, depression and pandemic.

In history, these rights have been temporarily suspended, but America has been worse off for it every time. Now many state governments are suspending First Amendment rights and other essential liberties by continuing to scale up data tracking during the pandemic.

We can fight the coronavirus without surrendering our American way of life. And we can defeat it faster by making the individual choice to follow common sense guidelines. We do not need to follow a quasi-authoritarian model to achieve success. We can prove to the world that individual freedom goes farther than individual restrictions.

The effort will be truer and more effective if we summon the strength to stop this scourge without government mandate, tracking or coercion. We need a leader who inspires American citizens to act in accordance with their own personal choice rather than out of fear of punishment. We need a leader who compels all of us to be our best selves.

The liberties enshrined in our Constitution are wonderful during happy times. However, they are even better and absolutely critical to exercise, during terribly sad times of war and suffering.

More ventilators, testing and personal protective equipment? More financial assistance and jobs programs to combat poverty? More Paycheck Protection Program funding? Yes, yes and yes. Our federal government has an obligation to meet every last commitment regarding those life-saving measures and medical tools.

We can believe in science and reason while fighting to preserve basic constitutional protections. It is not a binary choice, and anyone that tells you that it is intends to mislead you.

Our rights are non-negotiable. We do not want to live in a country, or world, without them.

Henry J.H. Wilson, Barrington

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