Mark Parkinson headshot
AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson

As state governors prepare COVID-19 vaccine administration and distribution plans by an Oct. 16 deadline, one industry trade association is urging state leaders to make long-term care residents and staff members the “highest priority.”

American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Mark Parkinson and NCAL Executive Director Scott Tittle sent a letter Tuesday to the nation’s governors maintaining that states must make residents and “hundreds of thousands of essential healthcare workers” in congregate settings, and individuals with disabilities, a priority in their state vaccine distribution plans.

Scott Tittle
NCAL Executive Director Scott Tittle

The letter follows the release last week of an outline of the federal strategy on COVID-19 vaccine deployment and an Oct. 16 deadline for state vaccine distribution plans to be delivered to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Parkinson and Tittle’s argument for elevating older adults and the essential healthcare workers who care for them included that the mortality risk in the older adult population is 630 times higher than it is for 18- to 29-year-olds, the fact that the virus is highly contagious and can spread through asymptomatic individuals, and that the social isolation resulting from safety measures is detrimental to the health and well-being of older adults.

“The combination of these factors, as well as a severe lack of personal protective equipment and testing at the onset, has led to a disproportionate impact on long-term care residents,” they wrote. “Current data shows that while COVID-19 cases in all long-term care facilities account for only 8% of total cases nationwide, they account for 41% of all COVID-19-related deaths.”

The pair also relayed information about the deaths of hundreds of staff members who care for senior living and nursing home residents, adding that their “around-the-clock” work on the front lines of the pandemic makes them vulnerable to contracting the virus.

“These state vaccination distribution plans are critical in setting the proper path forward and giving us a light at the end of a dark tunnel,” the letter reads. “We are grateful to the administrations that have already announced that their vaccine distribution plans will prioritize long-term care residents and staff, and we hope all states and territories will follow suit.”

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1189, passed by the Senate, would require the secretary of health to ensure assisted living facilities and other long-term care facilities follow and implement U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services disease prevention and control guidelines. The bill also prevents anyone who tested positive for a communicable disease within 14 days from placement in a facility without being placed in isolation. 
  • Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday rescinded a previous order limiting visitation at assisted living communities and other long-term care facilities and will begin allowing indoor, in-person visits. Facilities will follow Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services guidance on visitation, which will be suspended if there is a positive coronavirus case among staff or residents. The order also allows healthcare workers and service providers, such as social workers, clearly, hairdressers and volunteers, to re-enter facilities. The state long-term care ombudsman’s office also will begin going back into nursing homes and assisted living communities to conduct investigations.
  • Coronavirus-related deaths in long-term care facilities are prompting lawsuits and questions about who is responsible, according to the ABA Journal.  A growing number of negligence suits are being filed across the country against long-term care facilities by families whose relatives died from coronavirus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is calling for broad immunity provisions covering all states, a position supported by long-term industry trade associations. The proposed Safe to Work Act would give businesses five years of legal protection for “reasonable efforts” to comply with government standards to protect residents, staff and others from coronavirus.