David Schless headshot
David Schless

Congress should prioritize the needs of senior living and nursing home residents in any funding efforts related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), American Seniors Housing Association President David Schless said Wednesday in a letter to the chairs and ranking members of Senate and House committees overseeing appropriations and healthcare.

The letter was sent on the same day that the House of Representatives passed a $7.8 billion emergency funding bill to fight COVID-19. Thursday, the Senate passed the bill and sent it to President Trump, who is expected to sign it.

In addition to action related to supplemental funding efforts such as the emergency funding bill, appropriations bills for fiscal year 2021 should prioritize programs and supplies such as N-95 masks and test kits aimed at prevention, identification and treatment services for seniors housing residents and operators, Schless said. “Further, we call on Congress to include language that directs federal, state and local public health and preparedness agencies to address the full spectrum of senior living communities in their outreach and education initiatives pertaining to coronavirus,” he added.

The national association’s members operate, develop, invest in or finance independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities and are on the “front lines of the rapidly evolving outbreak,” Schless said, calling for a “comprehensive approach” to funding to meet the needs of older adults affected by the disease.

“The residents of our communities tend to be more vulnerable to communicable diseases, given their age and health status. …Living in a community setting with other seniors who share meals and participate in group activities places them at great risk of contagion if the COVID-19 virus is introduced into the community,” he said.

ASHA is hosting a webinar on COVID-19 preparedness with Argentum Monday at 1 p.m. ET and continues to develop resources such as the guidance disseminated last week authored by Hanson Bridgett.

Thursday, the U.S. death toll from the disease climbed to 12, with more than 225 confirmed cases in the country, NBC News reported. California, the site of the one of the latest deaths (all others have been in Washington state), declared a state of emergency.

At the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care Spring Conference in San Diego, COVID-19 concerns prevented a Thursday morning general session speaker from attending. Kirk Allen, PT, MSHA, senior vice president of home care for Humana, was grounded by a travel ban put in place by Humana on Tuesday, according to Bob Kramer, NIC co-founder and strategic adviser.

Meanwhile, senior living operators continued to communicate their preparedness efforts with constituents.

“We know that any virus can spread quickly, but with it spreads fear, so we are always on top of reports from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] on the spread of all viruses,” Lesa Scott, RN, vice president of clinical service and compliance at Edison, NJ-based Spring Hills Senior Communities, said in a statement. “We are taking the coronavirus seriously and incorporating additional precautions sanitizing surfaces and providing infectious control stations at the front desk.”

The operator also is encouraging hand and respiratory hygiene as well as cough etiquette by residents, patients, visitors and employees, she said.

“Everyone who enters a community signs in and out, as always, and we have signage posted providing information on hand hygiene, respirator hygiene, cough etiquette and instructing visitors not to visit if they have symptoms of respiratory infections,” Scott said. “In addition, we are helping our residents and families with their fears, if they have any, by having team members ready to answer all questions ensuring them that we have policy in place to prevent the spread of illness in the community.”