LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan

Congress should fund the cost of COVID-19 testing for all staff members, including repeat testing, in assisted living communities, continuing care retirement communities (also known as life plan communities) and affordable seniors housing communities and other congregate settings where it is required, such as nursing homes, LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said in a letter to Republican and Democrat leaders in the Senate and House.

“[T]he costs — all the costs — test kits, PPE and staffing — must be borne by government,” she said in a May 28 missive.

The request was one of several made in the letter, in which Sloan said Congress should “focus additional attention and resources on COVID-19 testing in all settings that serve and care for older people” — including senior living communities and affordable seniors housing — not just nursing homes.

“COVID-19 disproportionately affects older persons, persons living in close quarters or congregate living, and the people who serve these elders,” she wrote. “We hope you will further address the continuing challenges our members face in responding to this crisis and its extraordinary impact on them and the people they serve.”

Assistance is needed at the national level, Sloan said, adding that it is “irresponsible” for the U.S. government to tell nursing home providers to “talk to your governor” to secure supplies and funding for testing, and “it would be equally inappropriate to ask other aging services providers to do the same.”

Congress, she said, should ensure that federal policies and financing support testing whenever COVID-19 is suspected and support testing of all residents in congregate settings whenever anyone in the setting tests positive. In non-nursing home settings, mobile teams or other on-site alternatives should be funded to conduct testing, Sloan said.

To ensure that enough tests are produced to meet demand, quickly, Congress should mandate that the administration use the Defense Production Act, the letter said.

Any aging services provider that conducts COVID-19 testing should have guaranteed access to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended personal protective equipment needed to do the testing, Sloan added. Also, she said, a fund should be established to pay for temporary staffing when employees test positive for the disease and must be quarantined for 14 days.

Testing also should be available and affordable so that family members can visit residents in congregate settings, Sloan said.

And Congress also must address the unique testing needs in affordable seniors housing, she said.

“Affordable senior housing providers do not have the desire or capacity to administer tests but do want residents and staff to have access to testing,” Sloan said. “In these communities, local health departments must work with affordable senior housing communities if a resident tests positive; residents are not required to disclose such information and affordable senior housing communities cannot ask residents about their health status. And, affordable senior housing providers need federal funding support to ensure they can practice effective infection control.”