Senior living and care industry representatives are speaking out against racial inequity in response to rising protests across the country following the death of George Floyd and data on COVID-19 cases in long-term care disproportionately affecting minority residents.

Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, and Helen Crunk, NCAL board chair and Debbie Meade, AHCA board chair, released a joint statement about working together to combat COVID-19 and combat racial inequality in long-term care. 

“Concurrent with George Floyd’s tragic death is evidence of racial inequality in the very virus that we are fighting,” the statement read. “The data is clear that a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths occur among minorities. Most disturbing is that this appears to be true both in the general population and in skilled nursing facilities as well.”

The trio acknowledged the pain of the “deaths of tens of thousands of elderly people, many in our long-term care facilities,” from coronavirus and committed to keep fighting.

“We commit that long-term care facilities will be an oasis of freedom where people of all races, religions and beliefs are able to live and work safely, and without fear of prejudice,” the statement read. “We will work to fight against the factors that have created the profound healthcare disparities that exist in the United States.”

The two organizations, which represent more than 14,000 assisted living communities and  nursing homes that care for approximately 5 million people, thanked the “hundreds of thousands of heroes who work in long-term care facilities and have sacrificed so much during the pandemic.”

“The first half of 2020 has been extremely difficult for our country and created unthinkable challenges, but it will not defeat us and together we will make positive differences,” the statement read. 

James Balda, president and CEO of Argentum, said Floyd’s death brought “systemic issues related to racial injustice, discrimination and bias to the forefront of the national conversation. It has also jump-started meaningful conversations among staff members, residents and families across senior living communities, where the share of black employees is approximately double that of the general U.S. workforce, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, Balda told McKnight’s Senior Living

Numerous studies, he added, have shown that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected members of minority groups and the black community, and this has held true in senior living communities across the country.

“While we may not yet understand everything about the virus, we know that much work needs to be done to lessen healthcare disparities for communities that house predominantly minority residents,” Balda said. “We are committed to working with our members to recognize and identify these disparities so that our industry can continue to take steps to eliminate them.”

David S. Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association, said the nation is experiencing “heart wrenching pain.”

“The American Seniors Housing Association fully supports all the peaceful protests and other platforms and voices that are forcing America to recognize and respond to the outcry for social justice and racial equality,” Schless told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We must channel the outrage by relentlessly pursuing meaningful change in police department reforms and the criminal justice system.”

Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, said that after getting a first look this week at detailed national data of COVID-19’s “devastating” impact on nursing homes alongside new evidence that the virus has been most deadly for older people of color in urban nursing homes, it’s a “reminder of how this virulent virus has been allowed to rage on without protection or regard for older people and their care workers.”

“What is taking place across this country in the wake of the horrible death of George Floyd illuminates inequities in all parts of our society,” Sloan told McKnight’s Senior Living. “LeadingAge will redouble our efforts to speak out against inequities, to confront the systemic racism, and to help to right the wrongs of social injustices.”

Bill McGinley, president and CEO of the American College of Health Care Administrators, said all of the organization’s members agree to abide by the organization’s code of ethics, which prohibits discrimination in all forms, including racial discrimination. 

“ACHCA abhors discrimination in all forms, whether based on color or age,” McGinley said. “We are sad that nursing home administrators, against the backdrop of COVID-19, now also have to worry for the safety of their employees and buildings as protests break out in many cities.”

Christopher E. Laxton, executive director of AMDA – The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, said the murders of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, as well as the resulting “legitimate country-wide and world-wide protests, have shocked all citizens of good conscience.”

“These events coincide with recent analyses that racial disparities are not limited to the wider communities in the United States — they are rife in our PALTC settings as well,” Laxton told McKnight’s Senior Living. “They are revealed in the wide racial gaps among those older adults stricken with COVID-19 in our nursing homes and mirrored in our PALTC direct care workforce.”

Laxton said the majority of “heroic” frontline workers are also people of color, “many without adequate access to healthcare themselves, putting them at disproportionate risk of illness and death.”

“We must and can do better as a nation, not only to heal systemic racism in the U.S., but also to honor our residents of color, and to support those who care for them,” Laxton said.