More than half of assisted living communities have less than a two-week supply of vital personal protective equipment, placing them at a “significant disadvantage” in protecting older adults and staff from COVID-19, according to a new survey.

The National Center for Assisted Living queried 375 members June 10 to 17 on the availability of PPE at their communities. According to survey results released Thursday, 53% of respondents reported a less than two-week supply of N95 masks, and 52% reported a low supply of gowns. Low supplies also were reported for surgical masks (36%), face shields (34%) and gloves (31%).

Having asked for help, more than 70% assisted living communities are still reusing PPE in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards to optimize supplies, and many communities are still using homemade or improvised PPE. Seven out of 10 assisted living communities reported contacting state and local officials, and nearly half said they solicited donations from the public.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, these providers have faced similar challenges as other healthcare and congregate settings in acquiring this equipment due to its high demand and world supply chain issues,” NCAL Executive Director Scott Tittle said. “Our organization has requested $5 billion in emergency funding from the Department of Health and Human Services to help pay for PPE supplies, as well as expanded testing and additional staffing. Without assistance from federal and state governments, our communities are at a significant disadvantage in protecting our residents and staff from this deadly virus.”

NCAL noted that, like nursing home residents, assisted living community residents are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 — more than half of assisted living residents are aged more than 85 years.

“To date, assisted living communities have not received any direct federal funding, PPE shipments or prioritization for testing (outside of some minimal state support),” the organization stated. “Without adequate PPE, assisted living communities are facing an uphill battle in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks.”

Other key findings from the survey:

  • Suppliers are requiring large minimum orders. Many small companies lack purchasing power.
  • More than half of the communities surveyed said they are dealing with suppliers limiting orders on all items.
  • One-third of respondents said that suppliers don’t have N95 masks.
  • Price-gouging and expensive shipping costs remain issues.
  • Communities lack access to disinfectants and hand sanitizer.

“As many states reinstitute public gatherings as well as plan guidance on ‘opening up’ long-term care facilities to visitation, this is a critical time period to ensure our assisted living communities are equipped to keep COVID-19 out of their buildings,” Tittle said.

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