Press Release: Geriatric Healthcare Reform

May 12, 2020

Press Release from Senator Jen Kiggans:

COVID-19 Opens the Door for Geriatric Healthcare Reform

Long before COVID-19, our long-term care facilities have struggled with staffing, funding, and substandard living conditions. Families are frustrated by their loved one’s care and staff feel overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated. The residents in these facilities, especially those who rely on Medicaid, live in small rooms with multiple people, share the attention of a stressed nurse or care assistant, and are isolated from a society who chooses to lock them away where we don’t have to see them nor be reminded of their inconveniences.  

As a geriatric nurse practitioner, Virginia State Senator, and member of the Governor’s COVID-19 Long-term Care Task Force, I am pleased to see the state government responding and supporting the long-term care community in countering this pandemic, but the work has only begun. Not surprisingly, staffing shortages (including recruitment and retention issues) continue to be at the top of the list for areas for improvement. Although the Governor has increased state Medicaid reimbursement $20 per patient per day and has loosened some restrictions for certification of nursing assistants, facilities are still struggling as staff become ill, fearful, or quarantined themselves.

Prioritizing testing for these facilities early on would have allowed for symptomatic and asymptomatic patients to be sectioned into positive and negative care areas including isolation and quarantine rooms. Staff should have been given sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) sooner to facilitate better infection control. Instead, long-term care facilities are only recently being made a priority for PPE while starting to test all residents and new admissions from hospitals with the help of emergency staffing from outside sources such as the Medical Reserve Unit.

The infection and fatality numbers associated with the COVID-19 crisis and this susceptible age group have been staggering: out of 244 outbreaks in Virginia, 143 have been at long term care facilities, which have had 2,902 cases or 14% of the state’s total cases. 405 of the 713 deaths in Virginia as of May 5th were also in these facilities. As the rest of the country talks about drive-thru testing and antibody results and how essential these things are to re-opening our Commonwealth, my priority and point of focus remains the same: our vulnerable elderly. As of May 5th, of the 713 total deaths in Virginia, 368 were people age 80 and above, 164 of people age 70-79, and 116 of people age 60-69 (age 50-59: 42; age 40-49: 17, age 30-39: 4, and age 20-29: 2). One thing that the majority of people age 70 and above have in common is that they usually have multiple chronic health issues and an already fragile immune system.  

The response to the long-term care crisis pandemic should factor into our plans to re-open our Commonwealth for business. Since the majority of our workforce is less than age 70, most of us should be able to safely return to our jobs with the following safeguards such as wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, following good hand hygiene, and remaining home while you are not well or in poor health. Keeping all of Virginia in quarantine with our fragile economy on the verge of collapse does not justify mandating our younger healthy adults and pediatric population to stay home. It makes sense to take an age and vulnerability-based approach to re-opening as not all Americans present with the same risk level and should not all be treated as such.

Perhaps it is time to reconsider how we do geriatric healthcare overall in Virginia. With many alternatives to crowded understaffed facilities, Virginia has a chance to think outside the box and set an example for other states. State funding for group care homes, financial reimbursement for caregivers who leave jobs to care for their elderly family members, and increased access to telehealth are some underutilized vehicles for improved geriatric care. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how we view our most vulnerable but most precious members of society. Heaven forbid we have another crisis such as this that turns our long-term care facilities into battlefields where our doctors, nurses, and staff are out-numbered and ill-prepared to fight an unseen enemy. We already have an extreme shortage of geriatric-trained providers as the pay is low, the work is hard, and the competition for better healthcare jobs is great. We owe it to the care providers to compensate them with better pay and working conditions along with tangible gratitude for a sometimes thankless but always rewarding profession. I believe the silver lining of this crisis is that this oftentimes voiceless group now has people listening. We can do better Virginia, and we must do it now.  

State Senator Jen Kiggans

Senator Kiggans represents the 7th Senate District which includes parts of Virginia Beach and Norfolk.

Virginia lawmakers reject setting standards for nursing home staffing — for now

January 29, 2020

Daily Press

By Dave Ress

Sen. Jennifer Kiggans, seen during the opening of Virginia’s General Assembly on Jan. 8, said she’ll keep pushing for new regulations of nursing homes. (Jonathon Gruenke/Daily Press)

Brushing off — for the 16th time — a proposal to set minimum staff levels for Virginia nursing homes, which are ranked among the nation’s worst for the number of patients per caregiver, a state Senate panel decided to recommend a study group instead.

The Senate Health subcommittee rejected on a voice vote a proposal from state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, that would have said nursing homes need to provide at least one direct care staffer for every six patients.

“Families are stressed to the max trying to make sure their loved ones get the care they need,” said Sam Kukich of Poquoson, after telling the panel about her late mother-in-law’s 55 falls while in a Peninsula nursing home and the 65 pounds she lost there because she didn’t get the help she needed to eat.

Residents who need help eating, showering, moving around and going to the bathroom get an average of two hours of direct care staff time a day, she said.

“A lot have given up,” she said.

Erin Hines, a certified nurse assistant from the Peninsula, said she often is assigned 20, 30 or 40 patients a shift.

“Call lights are going unanswered because there is no one to answer,” she said.

But Scott Johnson, a lobbyist for the state nursing home association, said the bill wouldn’t help because it was a one-size-fits-all standard. He said the real problem was that nursing homes have problems attracting enough good staff members.

Subcommittee Chairman Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomac, said the problem was serious but the cost to address the issue could be large. And subcommittee member Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, said that while nursing home shortfalls in care are egregious, she thought Kiggans’ bill would do more harm than good.

Kiggans said she would be back.

“These are my people,” she said, afterward. “This is why I ran for office.”

Most Hampton Roads nursing homes have fewer nurses and aides and more violations of health standards than the national averages, putting patients at increased risk of injury or untreated illness, Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot investigations found last year.

Inspectors found multiple violations of state standards of care at virtually every nursing home in Hampton Roads, a review of the latest round of reports shows.

Out of 64 area nursing homes, only two had no deficiencies in care reported, the papers’ analysis of U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services records found.

Many of the facilities where Hampton Roads’ most vulnerable adults live — those often unable to feed themselves, move around or even speak — exceed national averages for resident injuries from falls and open wounds from lying too long in one position, the newspapers found after reviewing several hundred pages of state inspection reports and federal data.

Roughly 60 percent of Hampton Roads homes reported patients having open skin wounds more often than the national average. The same percentage of homes reported above average numbers of residents became less mobile during their stay.

Since 2001, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has said homes needed to have enough registered nurses to provide 45 minutes of care a day for each resident. Only 11 of Hampton Roads’ 57 homes met this standard.

Jen Kiggans for Virginia Senate Announces Campaign Manager

June 27, 2019



Virginia Beach, VA – Jen Kiggans – Navy pilot, nurse practitioner and political outsider – today announced Jonathan Ewing is joining her team as campaign manager in Virginia’s 7th Senate District.

“I’m excited to welcome Jonathan to our team. He brings a wealth of political experience engaging voters of all political parties and backgrounds,” said Kiggans. “I know he’ll help us build on our momentum, fire up local activists and fight for all those who want a leader in Richmond who believes in public service, not serving the special interests or their own self interests.”

Deeply committed to a strong grassroots operation, Ewing is passionate about talking to voters at their doors, on the phone and throughout the community. He began his political career as a regional field director in Alabama. He then served as statewide field director in Wisconsin, deputy political director for the 2018 Montana Victory Program, and as campaign manager for a State Delegate candidate in Virginia.

“Jen isn’t a typical politician. Fighting for others is part of her core character, and I know she’ll take that fight to Richmond,” Ewing said. “The choice on November 5th is clear, and I’m excited to help share Jen’s winning message with the people of the 7th District.”