LeadingAge Florida Director Steve Bahmer

As Florida has become the “epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic” and the Trump administration seeks to block COVID-19 funding for states, national and state aging services organizations on Monday released a Florida COVID-19 situation report and a call for federal leadership and legislation to protect older adults.

“There is a Category 5 emergency bearing down on millions of older adults in Florida and across the United States,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said. “It’s been six months since the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the U.S. The pandemic is still raging. In fact, it’s growing worse by the week.” 

Sloan said there has been no coordinated federal response, no prioritization of the most at-rick citizens, placing the industry back at square one. 

“We are in the midst of a catastrophe with the potential for a greater catastrophe just ahead,” she said. “What our lawmakers do in the next weeks will determine the life and death of many of our nation’s most vulnerable older adults. For months, we have been sending out a warning to the federal government that this crisis is not over. We need a major investment in real solutions now.”

LeadingAge Florida’s “COVID-19 Situation Report” delivers a snapshot of the “dire situation” aging services provides face as they deal with local infection surges and calls for “robust funding” and a relief package that will protect the lives of vulnerable older adults “during the worst pandemic in a century.”

“The storm is here. It’s gathering intensity, and it’s putting enormous pressure on the providers who care for Florida’s most vulnerable citizens,” LeadingAge Florida President and CEO Steve Bahmer said. “Dramatically increased expenses related to enhanced cleaning requirements, screenings of all employees, testing of residents, very much deserved hero pay for their staff, increased overtime, staff replacement costs and sharp increases in [personal protective equipment] usage and costs are simply unsustainable.”

In Florida, one in five residents is 65 or older, and almost 200,000 Florida seniors benefit from aging services, including independent living, assisted living, affordable housing and nursing care. 

The state health department reports that more than 3% of residents and almost 3.5% of staff at Florida’s assisted living communities and nursing homes have been infected with COVID-19. Older adults account for 47% of all COVID-19 deaths statewide, with projections showing 10,000 deaths of older Floridians from the virus by Nov. 1.

Looking ahead, long-term care leaders — including the state’s 3,000 assisted living providers — expect a spike in cases will create new pressure on PPE supplies, which already are strained.

In mid-June, the state ordered all assisted living and nursing home workers to be tested for COVID-19 every two weeks. Providers estimated that monthly costs will range from $25,000 and $300,000 if state resources no longer are available. 

Meanwhile, the federal government is considering scaling back testing assistance. Growth in positive cases, they said threaten staffing levels and service delivery, and drive additional costs for overtime and staff replacement.

“No provider should have to make such tough decisions as whether to test staff this week, or residents,” said Jay Solomon, CEO of Aviva, A Campus for Senior Life, in Sarasota, FL, a nonprofit life plan community. “Someone who provides instant tests told me last week that if I were to place an order Friday I could hope to have equipment on site sometime in October.”  

Revenues are down as costs continue to climb. Providers report that COVID-related increases are driving operating losses from $100,000 to $3 million per month. 

“Many aging care providers are struggling to keep up, and they’re hurtling towards a fiscal cliff,” Bahmer said. “The only hope we have of getting ahead of this is repeat, rapid, routine testing. The need is not going down and costs are not coming down, so federal resources are absolutely necessary.” 

In a letter to Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rick Scott (R-FL) on Monday, Bahmer called for “leadership in harnessing federal resources to protect our members and the seniors they serve.”

“This next package of legislation must put older adults and their care providers at the front of the line right alongside hospitals for life-saving resources like [PPE] and testing, and it must include funding and support for aging services providers that ensure the health and safety of the most at-risk population of older adults,” Bahmer wrote.