James Balda headshot
Argentum President and CEO James Balda

The federal government should clarify protocols that senior living communities and states should take when residents have symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and should take other steps to prioritize senior living as responses to the virus continue, Argentum President and CEO James Balda recommended Friday in letters to Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar and leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocol “should clarify that testing supplies should be readily available and that all residents and staff should be immediately tested,” Balda said. “Any resident who tests positive should be relocated to a healthcare facility equipped for infectious disease control, staff who test positive should self-quarantine outside of the community, and communities should restrict access and implement infectious disease control procedures,” he added.

Using similar language in both letters, Balda also called on the federal government to:

  • Prioritize senior living communities, residents and staff members to ensure they have the resources to prevent, test for and respond to outbreaks. “In terms of prevention, we are specifically requesting personal protective equipment (PPE) to properly protect against the spread of the virus, including respirators, facemasks, eye protection, medical gown, and gloves,” he wrote.
  • Prioritize timely testing of suspected cases of the virus in senior living so that communities can expedite escalated infection control protocols as needed.
  • Prioritize senior living communities when vaccines and treatments are developed.
  • Consider expanding the use of telehealth and reducing the out-of-pockets costs associated with it. “These technologies hold enormous promise for evaluating and treating patients without exposing potentially infected individuals to those who are healthy,” Balda said. “We appreciate the temporary telehealth provisions included in PL 116-123, and further support policies that will encourage the use of telehealth whenever possible, including outside of the scope of a publicly declared health emergency,” he added.

In the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Balda additionally said that Argentum supports:

  • Tax credits or unemployment insurance for healthcare and long-term care workers to ensure that staff members will be compensated if they contract COVID-19 or a similar disease caused by a future declared public health emergency, must self-quarantine due to encountering an infected person, or must be a primary caregiver to an infectee.
  • Measures that will help ensure that workers are able to meet both professional and personal demands as more schools, day care centers and other social institutions close to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Proposals that will relax labor requirements to ensure that enough staff members are available to serve senior living residents. 
  • A temporary relaxation of HIPAA/privacy laws through Public Health Emergency Section 1135 waivers so physicians and hospitals can notify senior living communities of positive COVID-19 test results and, further, the mandating of such notifications.
  • Measures to ensure that senior living communities have the financial means to continue to meet the needs of their residents as they take measures to prevent and respond to the potential outbreak of COVID-19 that may affect their financial stability.