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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

Nursing homes still face challenges during pandemic

The American Association of Retired Persons is calling on Congress to help nursing homes to increase coronavirus testing and PPE.

SAN DIEGO — Although much has reopened across the state, that isn't the case for nursing homes.

Families have not been able to visit their loved ones in senior care for months now making this Father's Day a difficult one for many.

AARP, or American Association of Retired Persons was co-founded in California by the state’s first female high school principal, Ethel Andrus. The nonprofit reports roughly two in five COVID-related deaths in the U.S. are in nursing homes.

"Fifty-thousand people have died. How many more people need to die before we do what we need to do to save those lives?” said Bill Sweeney, AARP Senior Vice President for government affairs.

Sweeney, who spent nearly 20 years working in the U.S. Senate in various senior positions, is calling on Congress to help senior care facilities in this crisis.

“Nursing homes need proper PPE - the personal protective equipment like masks and gloves and gowns - testing and virtual visitation,” Sweeney said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has halted visits to nursing homes, leaving many seniors in isolation at a time when they are considered most at risk.

"Many of them have dementia or Alzheimer's or other memory problems, so for them, this is even more terrifying, asking 'why hasn't anyone come to visit me for two months?' 'where is everybody?'” he said.

Some senior care facilities are tech-savvy allowing for virtual visits, but many are not.

"In many nursing homes, families still don't have the ability to see and hear their loved ones, to talk to them and find out how they're doing,” Sweeney said.

What about the challenges for nursing home staff earning minimum wage?

"They're putting their own lives at risk to take care of our loved ones, and I think they deserve a tremendous amount of credit for that, but we also know, sadly, there are some facilities that are not doing a good job, and there are some people who aren't treating residents well. So what we're hearing across the country from the nursing home industry is a push for immunity from all lawsuits,” Sweeney said.

AARP said every nursing home should be held accountable for its care.

Some nursing homes are getting creative to get the elderly active, such as St. Paul's Senior Services in San Diego doing hallway workouts.

The staff hosts fun Friday activities like a groovy “retro day” and a “classic movie cocktail cart,” that goes room to room with nurses in costume to brighten up residents' days.

"Movie nights together or singalongs or those window visits or animal shelters bringing puppies, that's really wonderful, and we wish every senior facility [was] doing that," Sweeney said.

In San Diego, St. Paul's Senior Services said it's planning a Father's Day drive-by parade at one of its locations with music and entertainment for the seniors on Saturday.