President Biden late Thursday laid out a six-point COVID-19 action plan to combat the virus and protect the economy, but one senior living association executive called it “a path toward bankruptcy” for an industry that continues to feel neglected.
“For senior living communities, today’s plan is not a path out of the pandemic, but a path toward bankruptcy,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda said. “We continue to be discouraged that the Biden administration is neglecting America’s senior living communities.”
Senior living communities, Balda added, have been “leading the way” to protect older adults, following federal guidelines, regulations and mandates on a host of issues ranging from vaccines to social distancing to personal protective equipment.
“Senior living communities have suffered $30 billion in pandemic-related expenses and losses yet to date have received less than 1% of all federal provider relief funding,” he said. “This cannot continue any longer. It has now been 531 days since provider relief was signed into law, and the Biden administration is still sitting on $27 billion of this critical funding.”
Senior living communities, the Argentum CEO said, need access to federal assistance now, “or many will not make it through this pandemic.”
As part of the plan Biden announced, employers with 100 or more workers soon will be required to ensure that their workforces are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or produce a negative test at least weekly before coming to work.
Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, applauded this requirement as well as the expansion of COVID-19 vaccination requirements to all Medicare and Medicaid-certified healthcare settings.
“This will help prevent unvaccinated nursing home staff from looking for new lines of work, alleviating some of the staffing challenges too many long-term care facilities are currently facing,” Parkinson said, adding that almost 4,000 providers had expressed concerns about a federal mandate only for nursing home staff.
LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan similarly praised the expansion of the vaccination mandate in more healthcare settings, saying it will create a consistent standard and give older adults greater protection no matter where they receive care.
“The breadth of President Biden’s COVID-19 action plan will protect older adults and save many, many lives,” she said. “This is the right next step to get COVID-19 under control.”
Sloan also praised other measures in Biden’s announcement, including a nationwide distribution system to provide free booster shots for all Americans, once such shots are approved.
A deadline for employer vaccination requirement is unclear for now. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration will issue an emergency temporary standard in the coming weeks to implement it. The requirement reportedly will affect more than 80 million workers in private-sector businesses with 100 or more employees.
OSHA also is developing a rule that will require employers with more than 100 employees to provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated or to recover from vaccination. This requirement will be implemented through the emergency temporary standard.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services now is requiring vaccinations for the more than 17 million healthcare workers in most healthcare settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, including home health agencies, hospitals, dialysis facilities and ambulatory surgical settings. The action builds on the vaccination requirement for nursing homes announced last month.
“The time for waiting is over,” Biden said. This is not about freedom or personal choice — it’s about protecting yourself and those around you.”
The president spoke directly to the unvaccinated in saying that vaccines are free, safe and convenient. Since the U.S. Food & Drug Administration-approved the vaccines, Biden said, more than 200 million Americans have received at least one shot.
“What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?” he asked. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us.”
The administration also is preparing for COVID-19 boosters for all eligible Americans as early as the week of Sept. 20. Biden stressed that booster shots are subject to authorization or approval by the FDA and a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Plans include making booster shots widely available across 80,000 locations, including pharmacies, doctors’ offices and health centers.
Biden’s plan also includes increasing testing and requiring masking. The plan will use the Defense Production Act to manufacture and provide almost $2 billion for 280 million rapid point-of-care and over-the-counter at-home COVID tests, he said.
Those tests will be available to support long-term care facilities, community testing sites, infrastructure deemed critical, homeless shelters, prisons and jails, and other vulnerable populations and congregate settings. The administration also is requiring Medicaid to cover at-home tests at no charge to beneficiaries. In addition, 10,000 pharmacies across the country will offer free testing through the Department of Health and Human Services testing program.
On Thursday, Biden also signed an executive order to require all federal executive branch workers to be vaccinated. Another executive order extends this requirement to employees of contractors that do business with the federal government.
The president’s plan also is meant to keep schools open. It includes vaccination requirements for teachers and staff in federal education programs, increased fines for those not in compliance of mask mandates on public transportation, strengthening of the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, streamlining of the Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness process, and increasing production of and access to monoclonal antibody COVID-19 treatments.