Aging Services Leader’s Plea: Don’t Let the Politics of the Pandemic Overshadow the Threat to Older Adults

PRESS RELEASE | October 29, 2020 | by Lisa Sanders

What’s happening to older adults and the people who care for them isn’t political. It’s human.

Contact: Lisa Sanders
lsanders@leadingage.org 202-508-9407

October 29, 2020 Washington, DC -- As a third wave of COVID-19 surges nationwide, and Congress and the Administration have walked away from providing pandemic relief, the situation is growing worse for older adults and the providers who serve them.

“While the politics of the pandemic dominate the news, aging services providers are under siege. The virus is raging, infection rates are rising, and the pool of financial support is running low,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, the association of nonprofit providers of aging services, including nursing homes. “What’s happening to older adults and the people who care for them isn’t political. It’s human. The most vulnerable Americans cannot wait for relief.”

LeadingAge today released a new situation report on the escalating impact of COVID-19 on aging services providers, highlighting the soaring needs as the virus spreads in towns and cities around the country. Almost 60% of affordable senior housing providers report COVID cases in their communities, and 80% of nursing homes have had at least one COVID-19 case.

From nursing homes and assisted living to affordable housing and home health, providers are heading toward greater crisis in the coming weeks and months. Already the national guard has been called in to help with testing, infection control and visitor screening so staff can focus on care for older Americans, and infection rates continue to rise across care settings. The report details the latest testing, PPE, and financial needs, as well as the intensifying workforce shortages providers face.

“Don’t forget that the pandemic continues to take a disproportionate toll on older adults -- in terms of cases, deaths, and suffering from isolation and depression,” added Sloan. “Aging services providers are spending millions of dollars and are still struggling every day to protect older adults and workers. Yet our leaders are walking away. As we move into the third wave of this pandemic, the federal government must provide new relief.”

Among the new and notable facts in the Situation Report:

COVID-19 continues to spread among the most vulnerable older adults.

  • Nursing homes with higher numbers of Black or Hispanic residents have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, as measured by the share of nursing homes reporting deaths, share reporting cases, and the severity of outbreak.
  • Almost 60% of affordable senior housing providers report COVID cases in their communities.
  • 84% of affordable housing providers consider resident social isolation and access to services to be the top challenge in the next three months.

Concerns about having sufficient staff to care for older adults are paramount.

  • In at least 15 states and Puerto Rico the National Guard has been needed to supplement staff at nursing homes and senior living facilities in recent months.
  • “With the increasing number of employees testing positive, there isn’t sufficient staff available. What’s more, staff fatigue after eight months of a very challenging environment is a real concern for the months and weeks ahead,” said LeadingAge Oklahoma executive director.

Financial burdens continue to pile up as the pandemic requires more and more resources.

  • A continuing care retirement community in Virginia incurred $3 million in COVID-related expenses in its most recent fiscal year. For the next, starting Oct. 1, the organization expects to spend $3 million in COVID-related expenses (including testing, PPE, and staff pay).
  • 69% of affordable housing providers say they are ‘cost-burdened’ or ‘severely cost-burdened’ from having to pay for PPE, cleaning supplies, thermometers, and other screening tools.
  • “We’ve had to pay thousands and thousands of dollars for unbudgeted items, costs that are solely attributable to COVID-19 response -- touchless thermometers, face masks, PPE, hand sanitizer, additional sanitizer to clean buildings; increased labor costs; not to mention plexiglass used to create safe spaces,” said one California-based LeadingAge provider of affordable housing.

See the latest situation report here.

About LeadingAge:

We represent more than 5,000 aging-focused organizations that touch millions of lives every day. Alongside our members and 38 state partners, we address critical issues by blending applied research, advocacy, education, and community-building. We bring together the most inventive minds in our field to support older adults as they age wherever they call home. We make America a better place to grow old. For more information: www.leadingage.org.