Covid test tubes in a lab

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LeadingAge is calling on the Biden administration and Congress to deliver an emergency relief package to sustain senior living and other long-term care providers through the omicron variant of COVID-19 and future variants.

In a Jan. 21 letter to President Biden, LeadingAge recommended a six-point emergency relief package to help providers address staffing needs, prioritize testing and therapeutics for older adults, broaden support for affordable senior housing providers and ensure access to services through the extension of regulatory waivers.

Operators face an escalating set of pandemic-related challenges, including staffing shortages, burnout, price-gouging by temporary staffing agencies and closures, LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan wrote. Those challenges, she said, are being compounded by a surge of the omicron variant of COVID-19, threatening the nation’s ability to care for older adults.

“Older Americans and the people who care for them have borne the brunt of this unprecedented crisis,” Sloan said. “Dedicated, mission-focused providers across the continuum of aging services are doing all they can to keep meeting the needs of the older people they serve. But we need some additional help.”

The letter requests:

  • A $5-per-hour raise and one-time $2,000 relief payments to the nation’s 4.6 million direct care workers and 3,100 Housing and Urban Development service coordinators.
  • Prioritization of the aging services industry for the remaining Provider Relief Funds, along with a new $8 billion to $10 billion tranche to go toward daily operations and services.
  • A dedicated COVID-19 testing supply system for the industry.
  • A dedicated COVID-19 therapeutics supply system for providers.
  • A two-year extension of temporary waivers related to telehealth and nurse aide certification after the federal public health emergency expires.

Frontline staff, Sloan wrote, are “tired, stressed and quitting,” and new hires are scarce. Since February 2020, she said, the industry has lost 420,000 employees across the continuum. 

And with the Provider Relief Fund well “running dry,” Sloan said, providers face mounting expenses for COVID-19 testing, staffing, personal protective equipment and everyday pandemic-related costs. 

The LeadingAge CEO also called for increased support for affordable senior housing providers, including the expansion of eligible use categories for HUD’s COVID-19 supplemental payments to include establishing and upgrading internet access and evidence-based wellness and mental health programming. 

“Older Americans and their families are in crisis because our country doesn’t have the aging services infrastructure to meet their needs,” Sloan said. “This lack of financial support for the resources, organizations and professionals who serve older adults means that millions of Americans are denied access to fundamental services.”