Assisted living communities’ and nursing homes’ difficulty in securing personal protective equipment and testing to prevent or contain the spread of COVID-19, despite the fact that older adults are at higher risk for serious complications related to the disease, speaks to a deeper societal issue in the United States, leaders of national and state industry associations said Thursday.

“For too long, our nation’s leaders have failed older Americans. Since long before COVID-19, nursing homes and other older adult service providers have struggled to get the resources they need to keep up with an older population that is growing faster and living longer,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said during a video press conference. “And since the first day the crisis struck, care providers have been crying out for help, but week after week after week, those calls went unanswered.”

Those calls are for “ample PPE and ongoing rapid testing,” she said.

“We need to support the frontline care workers who put themselves at risk to help others, and we need Congress to allocate more funding to the aging services sector that has been pounded by this vicious virus,” Sloan said. “It’s time for real action and real leadership, today and in the months to come. Let me state this very clearly: Older lives are not expendable.”

“Let me state this very clearly: Older lives are not expendable.”

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan

Adam Marles, president and CEO of LeadingAge PA, said he was “deeply concerned” about how older adults will be affected by states’ plans to reopen businesses.

“We want people to get back to work and back to their lives,” he said. “However, I’m outraged by talk about how lives are expendable. Older adult lives or not expendable. They’re precious, just like yours and mine. Let’s treat them that way.”

The press conference included executives from LeadingAge PA and Presbyterian Senior Living because President Trump was visiting a distribution center of a medical supply company in Allentown, PA, on Thursday.

James F. Bernardo, president and CEO of Dillsburg, PA-based Presbyterian Senior Living, said the organization has 33 locations serving seniors, 15 of which offer assisted living, personal care or nursing home care. Three of those 15 locations are within 15 minutes of where the president was visiting, he said.

“In our entire system, we’ve had 92 cases [of COVID-19], 69 of those cases are in the Lehigh Valley, and the great majority of those 69 are in skilled nursing,” Bernardo said.

Later in the day, after Trump’s visit, Sloan said, “It’s shocking that a visit to a mask distribution center would not include a commitment to provide nursing homes, assisted living and other aging services providers with the tools they need to protect their residents and frontline care workers. She called on older adults and their families to tell federal policymakers “older lives are not expendable.”

Sloan praised the “appreciation pay” for frontline workers contained in the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act proposed this week by House Democrats.

“These critical workers show up each day to serve older adults in nursing homes, assisted living, affordable housing and home- and community-based services, including hospice, and deserve this recognition,” she said.

The proposed bill, which the House could vote on today, also provides housing resources to address issues that are emerging from the pandemic, LeadingAge pointed out. “We are especially pleased to see the House leadership recognized the need for service coordinators in the Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 202 affordable housing communities for older adults with low incomes,” Sloan said. The Senate is not expected to consider another coronavirus relief bill until after Memorial Day.

Sloan also called on Congress to allocate $100 billion for an emergency relief fund specifically for aging services providers.

“We will continue to work with members of Congress to ensure that relief legislation also provides significant investments in personal protective equipment and testing supplies, a $1.2 billion investment in relief for HUD-assisted affordable senior housing, and reimbursement for home health telehealth visits – all to protect older adults and the people who care for them,” she said.

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • South Dakota public health officials on Thursday announced a plan to test all residents and staff members of assisted living communities and nursing homes over the next month. Testing in assisted living will come after testing in nursing homes. The testing is not mandatory.
  • All New Jersey assisted living communities, memory care communities, comprehensive personal care homes, nursing homes and residential healthcare facilities must implement COVID-19 testing of all residents and staff members by May 26 under an executive directive signed Tuesday by Heath Commissioner Judith Persichilli. Results would be used to strengthen infection control and prevention strategies, according to the state.
  • Some assisted living operators in Florida are pushing back against an executive order signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last weekend that prohibits visitation and communal activities, such as dining, at long-term care facilities for another 60 days. They say the isolation is taking a toll on residents and that some residents are saying they’re going to move out if the ban isn’t lifted. One administrator has started a letter-writing campaign, and another has requested more PPE and that a task force be formed to determine a reopening date. Such a date could be months away, some officials said.
  • The owner of a Pennsylvania assisted living facility says that despite what at least one state senator says, more than 1,200 assisted living and personal care homes in the state wouldn’t benefit from a funding bill that passed in the state Senate, because they aren’t part of any Pennsylvania Department of Human Services programs. The body passed Senate Bill 1122 on Tuesday but it still needs to be considered by the state House. The bill reportedly includes $50 million in emergency funding for assisted living communities and personal care homes and $245 million for nursing homes to help them cover COVID-19-related costs.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Thursday issued an alert listing safety tips that long-term care employers can follow to help protect workers from exposure to the coronavirus.