White House Summarizes Steps Taken for Older Adults; Many LeadingAge Concerns Unaddressed as Crisis Continues

Members | October 02, 2020 | by Dee Pekruhn, Lisa Sanders

Today, the White House held a call-in webinar to outline the Administration's actions taken to support older adults and the people who care for them during the pandemic. Below, we summarize the discussion and offer our analysis of the information shared. 

Today’s White House Webinar on the Trump Administration’s support of older adults and vulnerable populations ravaged by COVID featured remarks by Vice President Mike Pence; HHS Secretary Alex Azar; CMS Administrator Seema Verma; HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir; and Rear Admiral John Polowczyk. Universally, all speakers praised the hard work and dedication of aging services organizations and their staff in the battle against COVID and expressed gratitude. Each speaker then gave a by-the-numbers review of what resources, funding, materials, trainings, and regulatory actions had been taken to support nursing homes and assisted living providers. Although no new initiatives or solutions were announced, presentations emphasized the Administration’s commitment and dedication to continue to support aging services providers and older adults, and that there is a drive to find and distribute a vaccine as quickly as possible.


While LeadingAge appreciates the Administration's attention to our members’ ongoing needs and their acknowledgment of their commitment to keeping older adults safe, many concerns remain unaddressed. Our chief concern is that the pandemic is the greatest challenge to the lives of older adults and their care providers in American history, and the resources being provided come nowhere near to meeting the incredible need. The pandemic has revealed that supply chains are insufficient and broken. While it’s heartening to hear on today’s call that improvements have been made, the problems are not entirely resolved. PPE access remains uneven; testing challenges continue. Case numbers are rising again, staffing is at a premium, and bills are mounting. This crisis is not over.



· Administrator Verma discussed the steps CMS has taken to protect and support ”our most vulnerable population,” including the creation and subsequent loosening of visitation restrictions, the 23 guidance documents and various waivers issued to address the virus, and the training programs and strike force teams that have been offered to nursing homes. She concluded by discussing the enhanced oversight and enforcement measures that have been created around infection control, and that 99% of all nursing homes have been surveyed.


· Admiral Giroir referenced the testing devices and resources that have been mobilized to nursing homes and assisted living providers with CLIA waivers. He then highlighted that on August 27, $760 million was awarded to Abbott to produce 150 million Abbott BinaxNOW Antigen Card POC tests. As announced Monday, he stated that 100 million of these will go to the Governors of U.S. states and territories, who can use them to reopen “as see they fit.” Examples included use in schools, that they “can also use them for congregate nursing home settings.” Another 50 million BinaxNOW test kits will be sent directly to those with vulnerable populations in high-risk (red or yellow) areas. 2.2 million have already gone to 7,602 nursing homes.


· Rear Admiral John Polowczyk provided statistics on how many of what type of PPE have been sent to nursing homes and other aging services providers, thanks to “100 uses of the Defense Production Act.” Data entered into the NHSN is essential, he stated, as it helps determine and target areas of greatest need of supplies. He then discussed preparations for possible outbreaks in the winter, wherein the national PPE stockpile is being prepped for a 90 day supply of masks, gowns, gloves, and respirators, and said that 90% of states already have a stockpile of at least 30 days of similar supplies.


Administrator Verma concluded the webinar by urging providers to practice more infection control, take part in the provided trainings, maintain constant vigilance, and encourage staff and residents to get flu shots.