man in wheelchair with blanket on his lap

Independent living residents of a Richmond, VA, continuing care retirement community had the rug pulled out from under them this week when COVID-19 vaccination clinics scheduled for mid-February abruptly were canceled.

CVS Health, which still is planning to administer second doses to assisted living residents and staff members at the CCRC, canceled the clinics for the independent living residents on the Westminster Canterbury campus. 

The case is not an isolated one. Although assisted living communities and nursing homes were included in priority groups for vaccination by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, independent living residents — even those who live on the campus of a CCRC, also known as a life plan community — have been denied prioritization for vaccination. 

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan sent a letter Thursday to CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., and her staff asking that the agency take steps to “ensure that all older adults living in community settings, including independent living residents of life plan communities, are provided with COVID-19 vaccinations during the on-site Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care clinics.”

Sloan specifically asked that the CDC’s recommendation on CCRCs be amended to “make clear that IL residents within LPC campuses are included within this eligible population.” She also asked that the amended eligibility be communicated with states as well as the pharmacy partners of the federal program.

Approximately 650,000 older adults live in life plan communities, with a majority (about 391,000) of them residing in independent living, the association noted. The average age of an independent living resident is 86, and many live with functional challenges making it difficult for them to compete with the general public for vaccination appointments, Sloan said.

“Independent living older adults use the same resources and spaces, and interact with the same staff, as do the assisted living and nursing home adults on the same campus,” she wrote. “The exclusion of these independent living adults from the on-site pharmacy partnership clinics has been profoundly distressing and confusing for both the older adults and the staff of these communal living residences.”

The federal government is partnering with CVS Health, Walgreens and Managed Health Care Associates to offer on-site COVID-19 vaccination clinics for residents of assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities through the federal pharmacy partnership program.

In October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that independent living communities, including those that are part of CCRCs, would be part of the program. But representatives from the pharmacy chains have stated that they are operating under original guidance that independent living residents are not part of the top-priority groups.

American Seniors Housing President David Schless previously told McKnight’s Senior Living that the organization anticipated a “chaotic and uneven” vaccination process for senior living staff members and residents. ASHA remains focused on working with both the CDC and state governors to include independent living in vaccination rollouts.

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