The fireworks came early on a long holiday weekend for those in the assisted living industry with the announcement Thursday of a report and legislation by three members of Congress aimed at increasing COVID-19 case reporting requirements and oversight of assisted living operators.
The report wasn’t unexpected, as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) as well as Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) in late April had asked the CEOs of 11 large senior living companies about their COVID-19 strategies and what they were doing to mitigate outbreaks when they occurred.
Responses in hand, comments made Thursday by Warren, Markey and Maloney seemed to be a mix of scorn and sympathy for the industry.
The lawmakers said they discovered that operators had “inadequate sick leave policies for employees that put people at risk, lack of routine testing and inadequate testing protocols, and shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).”
“Their investigation also found that assisted living facilities are not reporting COVID-19 cases and fatalities directly to the federal government,” a press release from the three members of Congress said. The statement could lead casual readers to infer incorrectly that operators are not complying with reporting requirements when, as the American Seniors Housing Association subsequently commented, operators are reporting data to local and state health officials as required.
But the lawmakers also said they recognized the industry’s need for more funding for PPE, testing and infection control supplies, noting, for instance, that operators “reported facing tremendous financial and logistical difficulties in obtaining adequate PPE for their staff.”
Other than some funds to eligible state Medicaid providers, which would include a small percentage of assisted living operators, announced in June, assisted living hasn’t been allocated any federal funding to fight COVID-19.
So now that Warren, Markey and Maloney realize what the industry has been saying to anyone who would listen for months now — that senior living operators need resources to battle COVID-19, too — it’s time for them to convince their colleagues in the Senate and House of their discovery and then put their (our, actually) money where their mouths are.
How much money? Congress could start by reviewing previous calculations from the industry.
Back in April, ASHA and Argentum asked the Department of Health and Human Services to allocate $20 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to companies operating independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities. At the time, the groups estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic would have a $40 billion to $57 billion financial impact on the U.S. senior living industry over the next year.
In May, AHCA / NCAL estimated that one-time COVID-19 testing of assisted living staff members and residents would cost $232 million. That’s the price for one-time testing, not the routine testing called for in the legislators’ new report.
In June, AHCA / NCAL said that assisted living communities needed $5 billion in emergency relief funding to pay for staffing, testing and PPE to fight COVID-19.
So beyond suggesting requirements in their proposed Assisted Living Facility Coronavirus Reporting Act, the senators and congresswoman should work to secure funding and other assistance to accomplish their stated goal of — in the words of Markey — “getting the test supplies and personal protective equipment they need to prevent outbreaks.”