Almost one-third (30%) of senior living companies that are members of Argentum or the American Seniors Housing Association still face challenges in securing adequate personal protective equipment in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the organizations told the Senate Special Committee on Aging in a statement submitted for the record of the committee’s May 21 hearing, titled “Caring for Seniors Amid the COVID-19 Crisis.”

“Supplies and testing capabilities continue to be scarce or nonexistent,” the groups said. “While the healthcare industry and essential workers were prioritized for PPE, our industry was largely overlooked.” Most providers, they said, have identified private sources for PPE, “but inventory levels remain a concern, especially if a resurgence of the virus occurs in the fall as predicted.”

Argentum and ASHA said that their member companies offering independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities represent approximately 75% of the professionally managed senior living industry.

Testing and staffing are additional challenges facing operators, Argentum and ASHA said.

Senior living companies are relying on private labs for testing, but availability is limited, wait times are long and results are not “fully reliable,” according to the groups.

“The ability to test residents and staff and receive rapid results will be the single most important gain we can make in this effort to beat this virus in senior communities of all types,” the organizations said. “This must be the goal and policymakers must not only advance a national effort but also create a funding stream to subsidize or reimburse the costs of the tests.”

Operator expenses have increased as senior living companies hire more workers to implement additional infection control, dining service and activity protocols and policies; pay for bonuses, overtime pay, “hero pay,” agency pay and sick leave; and conduct related training and retraining of employees on infection control, social distancing, signs of respiratory illness, personal hygiene and the proper use and disposal of PPE, among other subjects, Argentum and ASHA said.

Although necessary, the adjustments “come at a significant expense to each community,” the groups noted.

“The additional staffing, supply and testing costs coupled with the impacts of limited move-ins during this pandemic are creating financial pressures that are not sustainable,” Argentum and ASHA said. “Just as the overall health care industry is receiving federal grants and forgivable loans to assist their businesses during these unprecedented times, the senior living industry should have similar access to financial relief. Policymakers should recognize this and take steps to facilitate such assistance.”

In a separate statement, Argentum President and CEO James Balda said, “Overall, we believe the hearing provided important context to our continued requests for federal support, and our call to action remains strong: We still need adequate PPE and testing. We still need federal funding and support. These are essential resources to continuing caring for the nation’s 2 million seniors living in senior living communities.”

‘Acute workforce crisis’

The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living also submitted a statement for the record of the Senate Aging Committee hearing, noting that the organizations’ members operate 14,000 assisted living communities, skilled nursing facilities and homes for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities collectively serving 2.5 million people.

“The greatest and most immediate crisis we face is the lack of healthcare workers and an increased need for essential supplies in all settings,” AHCA / NCAL said, noting also that revenues have declined along with move-ins.

The industry faces “an acute workforce crisis” as workers with respiratory symptoms or parenting responsibilities stay home, according to the groups. To recruit and retain staff members, the industry is requesting loan forgiveness and is working with other types of businesses to assist laid-off workers with finding new opportunities in long-term care, AHCA / NCAL said.

“We need immediate resources to attract and retain more nurses (RNs, LPNs and CNAs) and support personnel including dietary and housekeeping staff,” AHCA / NCAL said. “While our current staff are working multiple shifts and in some cases around the clock, it is simply a matter of time before they burn out, further complicating this crisis. A workforce shortage of this magnitude severely impacts our ability to provide needed care to residents and combat the viral spread.”

A LeadingAge spokeswoman said the organization was “gratified to hear members of the Special Committee on Aging voice their support for the entire aging services continuum.” Member and witness comments echoed LeadingAge’s previously stated “Five Essential Actions” needed to protect providers and the older adults they serve, the spokeswoman said.

Read the entire Argentum / ASHA statement submitted for the record here. Read AHCA / NCAL’s statement here.

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