Over the past two years, healthcare workers have been championed as superheroes, and rightfully so. They’ve put their lives on the line to work with the sick, the scared and the dying. They’ve done so with few or no resources, support or days off to decompress. We’ve celebrated them publicly and privately.

But what about the healthcare workers we’ve forgotten? The ones who are working in assisted living communities, memory care neighborhoods and other long-term care senior living communities? They’ve been overlooked or worse, blamed for not doing enough when in fact, they stepped up to protect thousands of vulnerable residents from infection and cared for those who did contract COVID-19.

And as hospitals and nursing homes begin to recoup their financial losses over the past two years with the various streams of federal and state relief funding targeted towards them, assisted living communities have been overlooked, just as their employees were left out of the groundswell of support.

The situation in Florida, where I am located, is illustrative.

Assisted living communities in the Sunshine State care for more than 118,000 older adults. This is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year commitment to residents, the majority of whom have chronic health conditions and need assistance with activities of daily living, as well as personal and healthcare services — none of which can be provided while socially distanced. Those communities also provide significant savings to Florida’s taxpayers by providing homes for seniors who might otherwise be placed in a Medicaid-funded nursing home.

Over the course of the pandemic, Florida’s senior living providers have incurred more than $2.3 billion dollars in expenses for procuring gowns, gloves, masks, infection control prevention and supplies, “hero pay,” additional staffing costs and lost revenue due to record-low occupancy rates — losses which are long term, compounding and unsustainable. Yet because assisted living communities are regulated at the state level and not at the federal level, and because the majority of assisted living communities are private-pay, they have not received any significant relief or reimbursement to help survive these massive, pandemic-induced economic effects.

We’ve already seen a lack of new development in the state, and with so many costs increasing, many communities, unfortunately, will not recover from their losses and will be forced to close their doors. Assisted living has been left behind, and so have its employees, despite their extraordinary efforts to keep residents and team members safe during the pandemic.

Florida has become known nationwide as both a senior-friendly and a business-friendly state, but without action from its leadership, this entire industry will be left behind in its efforts to recuperate from the pandemic. It’s time for leaders to make a financial commitment to its assisted living communities so they can continue providing high-quality care to vulnerable seniors before it’s too late.

Gail Matillo is president and CEO of the Florida Senior Living Association.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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