A senior living industry group representing non-profit facilities is calling on the White House and Congress to prioritize older Americans in relief efforts as states begin to relax stay-at-home orders.
In a virtual news conference Thursday, LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan urged lawmakers and the administration to place aging-service providers on the same tier as hospitals for obtaining personal protective equipment and rapid-result testing kits necessary to ensure the health and safety of both residents and their caretakers.
She also called for lawmakers to include $100 billion in funding in its next relief package for senior living providers to cover the costs associated with Covid-19 and other support including access to telehealth, hazard pay for frontline workers, Medicaid funding and low-income housing assistance.
“Our nation has undervalued and under-invested in older adults for far too long,” Sloan said.
States starting the reopening process increases the urgency. “Our most vulnerable can’t be forced to compete with nail salons and gyms for life-protecting supplies on the open market,” she added.
The push comes as groups that represent senior living communities say their millions of employees and elderly residents have been left out of crucial coronavirus relief efforts that were largely directed specifically to nursing homes or hospitals. The federal government has moved to supply nursing homes hit hard by the pandemic with shipments of PPE, in addition to allocating billions of dollars in public health funding for providers.
Even those efforts have fallen short, said Sloan, whose group represents non-profit nursing homes, assisted living facilities and low-income senior housing communities. A plan released last month to have the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) distribute protective equipment to nursing homes only allocates a total of a two-week supply through July.
Carol Silver Elliott, the CEO of Jewish Home Family, which runs skilled nursing homes, assisted living, and at-home and community services in New York and New Jersey, said in the press call that the organization has spent more on PPE in one month than it normally does in a year.
‘Parking Lot Guy’
Industry leaders and senior living providers said in interviews that facilities are finding “innovative” ways to source the needed protective equipment like gowns and face masks, including chartering planes to pick up supplies from vendors, connecting with suppliers in China and India, and tapping state and local connections.
The products often come at a mark-up, said David Schless, the president of the American Seniors Housing Association, an industry group for for-profit assisted living facilities.
“We serve almost two million people who, by definition, are extremely vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus and we’re doing the best we can to try and keep them out of hospitals, but have done so with really no help at all from the government,” he said.
Elliott said her organization has had the most success obtaining supplies “from a person we only refer to as ‘parking lot guy,’” whose name they still don’t know. They meet in parking lots after wiring money to a murky account, she said.
The industry has held conversations with offices on Capitol Hill and reached out to the Trump administration on these issues. But federal response efforts thus far have focused on nursing homes, even though the other elderly communities have similar risk profiles.
The advocacy includes paid and earned media. A CNN interview with former Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson (D), who now leads the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, is featured in the groups’ digital ads to highlight the need for testing, funding and protective equipment.
Nursing homes generally provide more comprehensive, around-the-clock care, whereas other settings such as assisted living, continuing care and more-independent communities have varying levels of services that can include medication reminders, help with bathing, and dressing and meals. Assisted living facilities and other senior living communities are largely regulated at the state level, whereas skilled nursing homes have more federal oversight.
There have been more than 16,550 deaths due to the coronavirus in nursing homes and long-term care facilities as of April 29, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of figures from the 30 states in which data is available.
But there is no standard definition of “long-term facility” across states, which sometimes includes assisted living, nor is there any uniform data that separates skilled nursing homes from other types of senior living settings, making the impact on them difficult to track.
James Balda, the chief executive officer of Argentum, an industry group for assisted living providers, was invited by the White House to an April 30 event at which President Donald Trump unveiled additional efforts to help nursing homes battle the coronavirus and keep seniors safe. That included the announcement of a new Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes.
Assisted living communities weren’t mentioned, and Balda isn’t one of the industry executives on the commission. Argentum has had conversations with the White House’s Domestic Policy Council but hasn’t been able to meet with the coronavirus task force run by Vice President Mike Pence.
“We are urging the administration not to overlook senior living communities, which are a critical part of the health care continuum and are acting right now as a critical backstop to hospitals,” Balda said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Megan R. Wilson in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org