Sen. Warren Asks Behavioral Health & Addiction Treatment Facilities What Actions They Are Taking To Protect Residents from COVID-19 Outbreaks

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The following is a media release from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office. She was elected by voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve the state in Washington DC in the US Senate. She is a Democrat.

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WASHINGTON DC – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y), Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-Calif.) sent letters to the nation’s largest behavioral health and addiction treatment providers asking a series of questions about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreaks at their facilities and the actions they are taking to mitigate outbreaks when they do occur. 

The lawmakers sent letters to American Addiction Centers, Acadia Healthcare, Universal Health Services, Alita Care, BayMark Health Services, Gaudenzia Inc., BayCare Health, Promises Behavioral Health, LifeStream Behavioral Center, and Pinnacle Treatment Centers, each of which operates at least ten inpatient treatment centers for behavioral health or substance use disorder nationwide. 

This series of letters follows the investigation of assisted living facility operators conducted by Senators Warren, Markey and Chair Maloney, which found that residents of assisted living facilities tested positive for COVID-19 at more than five times the average national rate and that approximately 7,000 assisted living facility residents may have died from COVID-19.

Congregate living settings, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes serving people with disabilities, prisons, and jails, have seen some of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19. Because people in behavioral health or addiction treatment facilities are typically living in close proximity to others, they are especially vulnerable during this public health crisis.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also warns that people with a history of tobacco, marijuana, opioid, or methamphetamine use may be at higher risk for complications from COVID-19, due to the impact of those substances on their respiratory health.

“The tragic impact of the pandemic on people struggling with mental health and substance use disorder makes the services provided at your facilities more important than ever. Yet at the same time, your patients may be especially vulnerable, as they are likely to be isolated from support networks of friends and family during their treatment,” the lawmakers wrote.

Last month, Senators Warren and Markey and Chair Maloney introduced a bill that would address COVID-19 data collection and reporting gaps for congregate living settings.  Currently, there is no national reporting requirement on COVID-19 cases or fatalities within behavioral health and addiction treatment facilities. 

“As a result, little is known about the extent of COVID-19 outbreaks in inpatient behavioral health facilities or the actions taken by companies such as yours to reduce the risk to patients and staff,” the lawmakers wrote. “Without more information, it is impossible for public health authorities to appropriately direct resources to protect the health and safety of people who may be at heightened risk.” 

“We must act quickly to identify and address the ongoing risks from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawmakers continued.

The lawmakers asked a series of questions about the number of facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks, the number of staff or residents who have contracted the disease, the facilities’ prevention efforts, and the facilities’ paid sick leave and family medical leave policies. 

The lawmakers requested responses to their letter no later than August 19, 2020. 

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Graphic courtesy of US Government

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