Mark Parkinson

The federal government should extend the public health emergency declaration beyond July 26 and prioritize assisted living communities and nursing homes when a COVID-19 vaccination becomes available, American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living said Monday in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar.

Long-term and post-acute care providers need support to offer the “most efficient and effective care possible” to a vulnerable population of older adults during the continuing pandemic, AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson said. 

The PHE declaration, originally made in January in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus, provides temporary regulatory waivers and new rules to equip skilled nursing facilities and some assisted living operators with flexibility to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parkinson specifically asked the federal government to maintain Section 1135 and Section 1812(f) waivers until certain criteria are met, including the ability of the supply chain to continuously meet the increased demand for personal protective equipment, development of a vaccine, and rebuilding staffing levels to pre-COVID-19 levels. More than half of assisted living providers report a less than two-week PPE supply, and the virus “disproportionately impacts older adults,” with almost half of all COVID-19 deaths occurring in long-term care settings, he said.

Under Section 1135 of the Social Security Act, the HHS secretary may waive or modify certain requirements to ensure that in an emergency, healthcare services are available to meet the needs of individuals enrolled in SSA programs — including Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program — and that providers are reimbursed and exempted form sanctions for noncompliance, absent fraud or abuse.

Forty-eight percent of assisted living communities are Medicaid-certified, and approximately 16.5% of assisted living residents rely on Medicaid to cover their assisted living services, according to NCAL.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges to the entire healthcare continuum, and specifically to the LTC / PAC profession,” Parkinson wrote. “The presence of COVID-19 in a community has profound impacts on long-term care providers and the people they support.”

Without a PHE declaration extension and related Section 1135 waiver and Section 1812(f) waiver extensions, the challenges will be “exponentially more difficult and the moments of success too few,” he said.

“We anticipate the challenges associated with COVID-19 that our members and communities face every day will continue for many months, and potentially another entire year, if we continue to experience increased cases despite extensive efforts to mitigate the spread among our membership,” Parkinson wrote. 

“Providers and state governments have struggled to acquire the resources required to manage COVID-19 outbreaks and care for patients,” he said. “However, with your help, our members can access key tools available through the PHE declaration to help respond to this unprecedented challenge.”

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • LeadingAge is encouraging participation in the Global Ageing Network’s global day of remembrance on July 8 for older people lost to COVID-19. Aging services providers, healthcare workers and communities will light candles to honor the hundreds of thousands of older lives lost to coronavirus. The organization has released two videos — one of LeadingAge staff members lighting candles and another with remarks from CEO Katie Smith Sloan.
  • Speaking of videos, Argentum has created a new video as part of its Standing with Seniors campaign, calling for more COVID-19-related aid for senior living communities. Politico puts the cost of the new ad campaign at $500,000.
  • The National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel on Monday issued a blueprint for safely staging in-person union elections during the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting that employers complete cleanliness certifications for polling areas, provide voters with disposable pencils and use cardboard voting booths. The blueprint leans back into in-person voting after moving to mail-in ballots over the last few months.
  • The New York State Health Facilities Association / New York State Center for Assisted Living reiterated that “nursing homes and assisted living facilities were not the top priority” at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. The comment was made as an analysis by the state health department found that infections among nursing home staff members and transmission of the virus from staff to residents, not an influx of hospital discharges, mainly were responsible for the spread of the virus and fatalities among nursing home residents.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state’s coronavirus outbreak has “stabilized,” even though the state hit new highs in COVID-19 cases in the past week. He said the average age of new cases in the state is 21, but the state’s focus is on trying to keep people 65 and older from being exposed to the virus.
  • More than half of Virginia’s COVID-19 outbreaks originated in long-term care facilities, including assisted living communities, and nearly 96% of all deaths from coronavirus outbreaks have occurred in long-term care settings since the pandemic began, according to the state. 
  • Several Florida independent living communities have opened for visitation. The communities allowing visitors make sure visits are conducted in limited, prescribed areas, largely by appointment. Masks and social distancing are required, and visits don’t cross into the nursing home or assisted living areas in communities that have them.
  • After months of isolation, senior living residents and other older adults share what they see as the challenges and changes that the future will hold.
  • A South Carolina assisted living community is joining a viral trend on social media asking for pen pals for its residents. Generations of Chapin Assisted Living in Chapin, SC, has received at least one letter for all 44 residents after three rounds of posting on social media.
  • A New Hampshire family-run assisted living community is closing its doors after three decades, unable to maintain a financial footing in the COVID-19 pandemic. Rose Haven Assisted Living in Merrimack, NH, said COVID-19 restrictions, new regulations and staffing struggles forced its closure. The community will officially close once all of its residents have moved into new homes.
  • The Senior Living CaRES Fund gave more than 400 employees in the senior living sector in Canada more than $1.8 million in emergency financial assistance. The fund, created by Chartwell Retirement Residences, Revera, Extendicare and Sienna Senior Living, will provide one-time financial assistance grants of up to $10,000 to Canadian employees of senior living operators and is intended to supplement government financial support being offered related to COVID-19.

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