The Trump administration’s plan to exclude independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities from an upcoming distribution of personal protective equipment, as described by Vice President Mike Pence in a call with governors on Friday, could have “grave consequences” for the 2 million residents and 1 million staff members who live or work in such communities, the leaders of Argentum and the American Seniors Housing Association said Saturday.

Pence told governors that PPE soon would be shipped to every nursing home in the country to help them prevent or contain cases of COVID-19.

“The exclusion of assisted living and other senior living communities from this order neglects to recognize the care delivered to our seniors and the work of our team members, and we strongly encourage the Trump administration to reconsider it,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda said. “Lives will be saved if we can get our communities the PPE that they still desperately need.”

Not having resources to protect and test senior living residents and staff members “will have significant implications beyond senior living communities,” the organizations said. “A rise in COVID-19 cases in senior living communities will result in increased hospital admissions, straining already limited healthcare resources,” they added.

“For weeks, we’ve been advocating for priority access to PPE and testing for senior living communities,” ASHA President David Schless said. “The senior living industry is vitally important to the health of our overall healthcare system and should be treated as such by our elected officials.”

Balda said Friday that Argentum was pleased that the $484 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by the president includes $75 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund and an additional $25 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services for COVID-related expenses.

“We believe these added funds may help support the continued needs of the industry,” he said.

Argentum will continue to advocate that a portion of the remaining PHSSEF funds be sent to senior living providers and that Small Business Administration language be changed to allow the senior living industry to be treated similarly to the restaurant and lodging industries as far as eligibility for relief, Balda said.

“Finally, it is our hope that the additional $25 billion allocated to HHS for COVID-related expenses will help with securing more access to testing, which is critically needed across the industry for residents and staff,” he said.

‘Unrecognized and disrespected’

In New York, considered the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, adult care facilities and assisted living facilities “seem to have been set up to take the blame” for the fact that residents are contracting the virus, Lisa Newcomb, executive director of the Empire State Association of Assisted Living, said Friday in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, M.D., J.D., LLM.

Unlike other frontline workers, staff members of adult care facilities and assisted living facilities remain “unrecognized and disrespected,” she said.

“Despite the foreshadowing that the virus would target frail seniors, ACFs and ALFs still have not received the help they need to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE), or the funding required to keep residents safe,” Newcomb said. “ACFs and ALFs were only ​recently​ placed on the state’s ‘priority list’ to receive PPE in early April, and remain under-resourced.”

Initial steps that the state should take for providers, Newcomb said, include providing PPE, funding to hire more staff, testing for residents and staff members, and “some temporary regulatory relief so that our staff can dedicate their time caring for residents rather than completing voluminous paperwork and other requirements.”

Overall in the state, there were 288,045 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 16,966 deaths from the disease as of Sunday afternoon, according to the state. New York officials are not reporting deaths in assisted living communities, according to data published Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, but deaths from COVID-19 in 83 nursing homes in the state totaled 3,505.

The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living on Thursday issued a statement about what it called “the ongoing health crisis at long-term care facilities” in New York.

“Our healthcare workers at nursing homes and assisted living communities are undertaking heroic work on the front lines of the pandemic, caring for a population with a high degree of seniors with underlying health conditions, and they are counting on all of us — from the public to private sector,” AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson said. “The reality is that many long-term care providers are facing an unprecedented situation that has left them begging for testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and staffing resources. Just like hospitals, we have called for help. In our case, nobody has listened.”

More than 70% of long-term care providers are not able to find enough masks, gowns and face shields to protect their workers, Parkinson said. “And lack of timely testing in long-term care has forced providers to rely on a symptoms-based approach, whic​h provenly will not prevent the spread of COVID-19,” he said, asking New York’s governor and other leaders to “rally around long-term care residents and caregivers just as they have appropriately done with hospitals.”

Proposal calls on Congress to ensure support for HCBS caregivers

The Partnership for Medicaid Home-Based Care is calling for Congress to adopt measures to support caregivers providing home- and community-based services in settings including senior living.

“Assistance with activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living are essential to maintaining the health and safety of persons living at home or in community settings,” David J. Totaro, chairman of the organization, said in a statement last week.

The statement followed an April 14 letter PMHC sent to leaders of Congress. Both call for the establishment of a $63 billion HCBS Direct Care Worker Fund to help increase wages and sick time benefits for workers; universal presumptive eligibility, under state Medicaid and Medicaid Waiver programs, for all elderly and disabled individuals deemed to need HCBS, for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency; and priority access to PPE for agencies and workers providing HCBS.

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