June 4, 2020, Washington, DC -- Statement from Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO, LeadingAge, the association of nonprofit providers of aging services, including nursing homes.
“This week, we’re getting a first look at detailed national data on the impact of COVID-19 in nursing homes. As expected, the numbers are devastating. They are a reminder of how this virulent virus has been allowed to rage on without protection or regard for older people and their care workers.
And they are more tragic when considered alongside new evidence that the virus has been most deadly for older people of color in urban nursing homes.
These tragedies make all the more disturbing a series of recent signs that the Administration may be preparing to declare victory and walk away from older Americans who are facing the greatest threat of their lives.
Such a decision would be unbelievable, but the signs seem unmistakeable, from the White House down to the front lines of the worst pandemic in a century.
Loss of Administration Focus
Multiple new signs suggest that the Administration’s leadership is getting ready to walk away from any substantive leadership role in confronting the pandemic and its grave threat to older Americans:
- The White House coronavirus task force is showing signs of ending its work, with reports of a final after-action report coming out soon.
- The task force itself seems to meet rarely—indeed, Dr Anthony Fauci has said he hasn't met with President Trump in weeks.
- The White House's own “testing czar,” Brett Giroir, is leaving his post to return to regular duties.
- Just yesterday, in a meeting with governors, the Vice President asked everyone else to “redouble” their efforts to fight the coronavirus—but said not one word about providing a national strategy for testing, any new federal supplies for struggling care providers, or other assistance to deal with the slow-motion catastrophe that COVID-19 has become for older Americans.
Massive Need and Makeshift Solutions for PPE
Aging services providers have been promised little more than token personal protective equipment (PPE) assistance to care for vulnerable residents and staff, and many haven’t even received that. The token nature of the administration’s PPE effort—and the lack of a comprehensive plan—also suggest that the federal government could be trying to dress up symbolic assistance and walk away from real commitments.
Months into the crisis, it is pitiful that aging services providers are still scrounging for PPE. Too often, the only signs of FEMA’s much-hyped promise of PPE shipments—an allotment of gowns, gloves, masks and goggles based on staffing size of the provider—are scattershot delivery with varying amounts of rag-tag supplies.
For example, LeadingAge members in Missouri, Maryland, South Carolina, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin report receipt of unmarked boxes of cotton face masks—which are not CDC-approved PPE and are widely known to be insufficient to properly prevent infections, especially in a nursing home environment where vulnerable seniors reside. Those who have received identifiable FEMA shipments report a mix of gowns, masks, goggles and gloves, while others have received only one of the four promised types of PPE. As FEMA’s own deadline for shipment approaches, many nursing homes still don’t know if and when they’re going to receive anything.
Instead of sending a few boxes and walking away, LeadingAge calls on the administration and Congress for immediate access to ample amounts of each category of PPE for all care providers who serve older Americans. As states reopen, nursing homes and aging services providers must not be asked to compete for PPE on the open market with nail salons and gyms.
Patchwork Plan for Testing
For weeks the federal government has been pushing rhetoric—”we have prevailed,” the President said weeks ago—that will enable them to walk away from the massive testing gap that must be closed if the threat of the coronavirus crisis is actually going to be dealt with.
There is simply no replacement for regular testing when it comes to managing the virus in nursing homes. At Tuesday’s hearing of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Governor Jared Polis of Colorado rightly noted that “If you test a worker that's asymptomatic and they're negative, it's only as good as it is in that day and time.”
Despite the clear need for regular testing, and the huge challenges involved in providing them to millions of vulnerable adults and their care workers, the administration’s “we have prevailed” strategy is designed to walk away from the nation’s patchwork plan for testing instead of developing a comprehensive strategy. The federal government has abdicated its responsibility, leaving governors to implement a variety of testing guidance with varying levels of support for providers.
For hard-hit frontline aging service providers and the people they care for, the result has been confusion and fear.
LeadingAge calls on the administration and Congress for a comprehensive, evidence-based national plan for coronavirus testing. The plan should cover development and production of tests, reimbursement for costs of testing, and a framework for distribution. At the end of May, LeadingAge sent a letter detailing requests on how Congress can assure this happens
The Need for Transparency and Real Relief
As of today, the U.S. has seen 1.8 million COVID-19 cases and more than 107,000 deaths. Now is the time for leaders to lead, not walk away from millions of older Americans and their care providers.
LeadingAge calls on the administration and Congress for urgently needed protections for older adults and their care workers in nursing homes, assisted living, affordable housing, hospice and home settings, as laid out in our Five Essential Actions.
We have long supported the need for transparency during this public health crisis. Better understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on our country’s older adults is an important way to assure policymakers and other government officials direct resources to the communities with the most need.
But this new data is not the end of anything, and no spreadsheet can be used as cover for abdication instead of leadership. Older lives are not expendable. Do not walk away.”
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