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Professor selected for national commission on pandemic-era nursing-home safety

June 19, 2020

By Anne Christiansen-Bullers

Back of eldery man in wheelchair looking down a nursing home corridor
An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 residents of long-term-care facilities have died from COVID-19. Dr. Kalender-Rich will be a part of a team of experts analyzing how these facilities can better cope with the pandemic reality.

A national panel of experts will convene to discuss the impact of COVID-19 in nursing homes, and a University of Kansas Medical Center professor has been selected for its membership from more than 800 applicants.

Jessica Kalender-Rich, M.D., FACP, associate professor of Geriatric Medicine at KU Medical Center and practicing physician, has been named to the Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes.

U.S. President Donald Trump called for the formation of the commission in an announcement April 30, 2020, and asked the commission to assess the immediate and future implications of the pandemic on nursing homes.

The initial plan is for the commission's 25 members to convene weekly through July. Ultimately, they'll provide recommendations, and their completed report will be delivered to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) shortly after Sept. 1, 2020.

A voice for the vulnerable

Photo of Dr. Kalender-Rich

Jessica Kalender-Rich

Kalender-Rich said she was honored to be chosen for such a prestigious appointment. She thanked the two U.S. senators from Kansas, Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, for their support in her nomination.

"I hope to have a voice to represent Kansas, and a voice in the decisions that are being made and the data that's being collated," Kalender-Rich said.

"We've seen that coronavirus has attacked our most frail, vulnerable patients," she said. "As a geriatrician and as someone who practices in nursing facilities for my primary site of practice, being on the commission seemed like a natural fit."

Understanding the intricacies of nursing facilities

In addition to her position at KU Medical Center, Kalender-Rich also is medical director for post-acute continuum of care at The University of Kansas Health System. She also is medical director at two skilled nursing facilities: one in Kansas City, Kansas, and the other in Shawnee, Kansas.

"I think it's critically important, when making decisions about nursing facilities, that there are people involved who actually live and breathe and work every day in that setting," Kalender-Rich said. "It can be really challenging when people who don't understand the really unique intricacies of nursing facilities begin to make judgments and rules about that setting of care."

The commission convenes at a time when the Wall Street Journal reports a death toll of 50,000 tied to U.S. nursing homes and senior-care facilities. USA Today, through an analysis of state data, estimates 40% of all COVID-19 deaths are tied to nursing homes, including 104 deaths in Kansas.

In a daily media briefing presented by The University of Kansas Health System, Kalender-Rich said, "I think we can all agree, actually, that there's a lot of opportunity to improve the ways nursing homes can tackle COVID-19. ... The plan is to really conduct a comprehensive assessment of the response, to look at how things have been done in nursing facilities, and the way they could be done in order to make some recommendations that would really inform the efforts to safeguard the health and the quality of life of these vulnerable older adults."

A physician for ‘the whole person'

Kalender-Rich is a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Medicine. She completed her residency and fellowship in geriatric medicine at the KU School of Medicine as well. She said she chose geriatric medicine in part because of her grandmother, who suffered a stroke while still in her 50s.

"She went from being my secondary caregiver, to someone to whom we were providing care," Kalender-Rich said. "I wanted to become the type of physician that cared for my grandmother...the kind of physician that takes care of the whole person."

Last modified: Jun 19, 2020