Lisa Newcomb headshot
Lisa Newcomb

An organization representing assisted living operators in New York is working with the state Department of Health to “separate and differentiate” policies for senior living communities and nursing homes to reduce isolation and allow more freedoms for less-vulnerable residents during the pandemic.

The Empire State Association of Assisted Living, which represents more than 300 licensed assisted living / adult care providers in New York, contends that blanket rules for assisted living / adult care facilities and skilled nursing facilities continue to be enforced in the state “despite stark differences in the characteristics of the two resident populations, and despite differences in COVID-19-related data.”

“The pandemic has required assisted living residents to be isolated for a long time to the detriment of their emotional and mental well-being,” ESAAL Executive Director Lisa Newcomb said. “It’s our job to make sure that the residents in these communities are being treated fairly.

In testimony before the New York State Legislature, as well as in a letter to the New York State Department of Health, Newcomb implored officials to update state policies, especially related to the reopening of hair salons within communities and the reinstatement of communal dining and small-group activities.

ESAAL asked for clarification on policy regarding communal dining and group activities at assisted living communities. State Department of Health guidelines call for the cessation of communal dining and group activities for 28 days if one positive case of COVID-19 is reported at a community. Return-to-work guidance for infected employees calls for prior isolation of only 10 to 14 days, however.

Noting that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines do not include this standard, ESAAL recommended that the state revise its policy.

“Using more nuanced and thoughtful criteria, other residents should continue to enjoy communal dining activities, using all required precautions,” Newcomb said. “Assisted living is a very socially-oriented model. Residents have been isolated from their fellow residents for too long. We can reunite them safely. It’s time.”

A recent ESAAL member poll showed that 74% of the 185 respondents had residents make a trip outside of their communities, many with the “express purpose to get their hair done.” 

“Once residents leave, the [adult care facility] has no control over whether proper protocols are followed,” Newcomb said. “Because ACFs must follow strict infection prevention and cleaning protocols, residents would be safer if they were able to use the residence’s hair salon, with hairdressers tested weekly like other ‘staff.’ ”