With older adults “living at ground zero of the pandemic,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan has issued a “call to action” to prevent more loss of life.

“COVID’s deadliest moment has arrived. We are beginning what experts say will be the worst phase of the pandemic,” Sloan said during a press conference Monday on the national effects of COVID-19 community spread during the holiday season. “The virus is raging, infection rates are skyrocketing, and the pool of financial support is running low,” she said. 

Along with calling on Congress to “deliver a new federal lifeline,” LeadingAge and leaders from its state associations from around the country wrote an open letter to the public, calling on Americans to wear a mask, stay socially distant and regularly wash their hands to protect their older relatives and others in the community.

“What we do now will determine if we protect or endanger the lives of the older adults we love,” Sloan said. “This Thanksgiving could have been different. If community spread had been contained, older adults and the people who care for them wouldn’t’ be far from those they love this holiday.”

John Sauer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Wisconsin, called it “a form of ageism” to ignore a virus that is attacking and killing older adults.

“We plead for the public to take on this responsibility because the COVID numbers are surging exponentially,” Sauer said. “Now is the time for us to act collectively. It’s the humane thing to do.”

Sauer shared the personal effects of COVID-19 on his family and others he knows, including a friend who was on a ventilator for 14 days, his son with COVID pneumonia, and his mother living in assisted living who passed away due to the toll isolation took on her quality of life. 

“We need to think just beyond ourselves,” Sauer said, adding that COVID-19 exposed the “fragility and vulnerability” of the long-term care system, which he called “underfunded and underappreciated.

Julie Thorson, president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a Fort Dodge, IA-based life plan community, said she is frustrated that community spread is still occurring and getting worse.

“We’re not just tired; we’re exhausted. We’re completely depleted,” Thorson said. “We’re angry because those outside our world know how to do better, and yet not everyone does.”

Sloan said supplies are running low and many providers are “running on fumes” and at risk of closing.

Sauer said that along with personal responsibility by the community at large, sustained federal funding for staffing, testing and infection control is necessary to sustain the long-term care industry.

“Funding, regulatory reform, immigration reform, all those things have to be on the table if we’re going to have a sustainable system in the future,” Sauer said. “Otherwise, I’m afraid the system is going to collapse after the temporary funding expires and we’re left on our own to try and figure out how we’re going to make this a viable system.”

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