President Donald Trump yesterday held a press briefing on the status of the United States’ efforts to control spread of COVID-19. What gave me pause was the President’s cloudy description of advanced communications and the lost opportunity to promote broadband. The President said this about technology and connecting people:
“Nursing homes in higher-risk areas will be receiving more funding. This money can be used to address critical needs, including the hiring of additional staff, increasing testing, and providing technology support so residents can connect their families and they can connect to their families. They are having a tremendous time. They want to be with their loved ones. They can’t do it, so what we’re doing is we’re working it so that we can connect — have them connect with their families if they’re not able to visit.”
According to the President, $5 billion would be allocated to nursing homes from the Department of Heath and Human Services provider relief fund. Mr Trump’s statement implied that some of this funding would go toward connecting nursing home patients and their families. But a review of HHS allocation targets did not identify any amounts going toward nursing homes for additional communications facilities. The Administration’s signaling of this intent does not appear to be included in the actual allocation program.
Mr Trump may have had an eye on applying political messaging to secure votes from the elder population in general and the nursing home population in particular given controversy around a directive by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Democrat of New York, to not prohibit the placement of patients in nursing homes based solely on the possibility of having COVID-19. Critics of the Governor’s actions have been quick to point out the risk to elderly non-infected nursing home residents. Hours after Mr Trump’s remarks on the elderly and COVID-19, Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, referred to Governor Cuomo’s decision to locate infected patients in nursing homes as a “disastrous decision” that amounted to an impeachable offense.
That an opportunity for promoting public policy, in this case broadband for telehealth, may have been lost due to prioritizing political messaging is unfortunate. The loss could have been mitigated by using specific terminology and definitions in one or two sentences rather than using a broad term such as technology. It is another lesson to readers of and listeners to political messaging to remain aware of as much of the existing political environment when assessing the value of political statements.