“Invite me in. Fill up my dance card. Let’s work together.”
Those are just a few things HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told LeadingAge members on Wednesday’s Coronavirus call.
“We have a lot to do. We have lives to save. We have workers to appreciate and support. I hope that you will continue to work with us,” said Sec. Becerra, speaking to LeadingAge members during the Wed., Jan. 18 weekly member call, adding “This has been a great partnership.”
Sec. Becerra spoke to members nearly two months after LeadingAge’s late-November launch of the nursing-home-focused All Hands on Deck campaign, one of several LeadingAge initiatives responding to the White House’s six-week campaign to raise older adults’ bivalent vaccine booster rates.
For All Hands on Deck, LeadingAge submits weekly reports to HHS documenting nursing home resident booster rates. LeadingAge members most recently (as of Jan. 1, 2023) reported 63.94% of all residents complete and up to date, better than the general population and better than all nursing homes (48.72%). The percentage age 5 or older that is up to date is 15.4%, and people 65 or older are at 38%, per CDC.
“When we put out the call to you, we were hoping that you’d respond because we needed to get more of our citizens and especially our senior citizens and those in nursing homes vaccinated. So thanks for the work that’s been done,” said Sec. Becerra.
But there’s more to be done, the Secretary said. The department invested $500 million into vaccine efforts across the country, he said, “putting money behind our words.”
Regarding the HHS partnership with LeadingAge, Sec. Becerra added that he’s more than open to further collaborations beyond the bivalent booster uptake campaign.
“I certainly want to do that because it’s not just vaccine uptake,” Becerra said. “It’s nursing home quality, the staffing issues, staff burnout, all of these things. We’re going to have to tackle them together. And so we are ready.”
Sec. Becerra told members he’s visited a number of nursing homes over the past six weeks as part of the White House campaign, and encouraged LeadingAge members to invite him to visit to share what has worked best for them and how other communities can do the same.
“People are seeing the success we had working with you and your members in trying to boost vaccine uptake in the last month and a half, two months. I think we want to build on that success. So, fill up my dance card.”
Sec. Becerra also highlighted the work of the dedicated professional caregivers who continue to serve older adults through times of uncertainty: “They’ve been champions and I know that sometimes there are long hours, sometimes very difficult. But you all have kept up and we thank you.”
HHS is listening to and working to help LeadingAge members best protect their residents from COVID, Sec. Becerra said. He mentioned, with help from LeadingAge, that the department is working on a way to urge hospitals to administer the bivalent booster to patients before being discharged to a nursing home community.