As Older Americans Are Dying from COVID-19 & Care Provider Needs Multiply, New Senate Proposal Walks Away from Real Relief

PRESS RELEASE | August 19, 2020 | by Lisa Sanders

“It’s Shameful to Ignore the Continued Deaths & Escalating Danger to Older Adults” State & Local Aging Services Providers Detail “Unsustainable” Costs of Coronavirus Crisis

August 19, 2020 Washington, DC — Leading aging services providers criticized a new version of the Senate Republican leadership’s “HEALS Act” proposal released today —which does little to nothing to address the growing danger and escalating needs of older adults and their care providers.

“When eight out of ten COVID deaths are among people 65 and older, and infections in nursing homes are breaking new records, it’s shameful to largely ignore the continued deaths and escalating danger to older adults,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge. “This bill provides no real relief to older Americans.”

In recent weeks, state and local providers have been growing more fearful about how to sustain coronavirus costs that many describe as unsustainable. (Quotes and details below.)

The proposal, described by the White House Chief of Staff as a “skinny measure,” retreats from a July proposal that itself provided none of the needed $100 billion of dedicated funds to help aging services providers meet their needs for PPE and other increased costs. This new bill includes only a fraction of the $10 billion dollars needed for testing for aging services providers. It also fails to support the heroic care workers who have been risking their lives for months as they care for older adults, waiting for help from the government.

“This isn’t just skinny,” said Sloan. “It’s anemic. And when the Senate leadership justifies the bill by saying they included only the “most urgent” needs—as vulnerable adults die in record numbers—it seems that what they really mean is that older lives are expendable.”

The Food & Drug Administration recently acknowledged that ventilators, respirators, masks, surgical gowns, gloves, and sterile swabs are in short supply around the country. But the Senate went home last week without even debating the measures, after the House of Representatives passed legislation in May.

The new package offers nothing to address the needs of more than 750,000 older adults in HUD federally-subsidized and privately-owned housing programs or the many other settings where older adults receive care and services.

What the continuum of aging services providers need is: ample PPE; sufficient testing supplies and rapid-results; funding and support to cover the extraordinary costs incurred as a result of this public health crisis; and pandemic hero pay, paid sick leave and other benefits for front line staff who care for older adults.

Last week a report from the American Health Care Association showed that most nursing homes have spent money on PPE, testing and staffing at unsustainable rates since the coronavirus crisis began, as they face high and escalating costs for PPE and testing.

Quotes from LeadingAge state care providers who have been sounding the alarm for months:

“Testing of all staff and visitors is a key element in keeping COVID out of our populations —but it’s not been uncommon to wait days or weeks to get test results. Every one of our members has concerns about their financial future, because the costs are unsustainable. We’re concerned some of our providers will be forced to close their doors. Senators Cornyn and Cruz, we are counting on your leadership, and we urge you to put aging services providers at the front of the line alongside hospitals.” Linial also shared that he sent a letter to his Senators today as well.

“Providers are spending multiples of what they spent pre-COVID on personal protective equipment items; both in amount and in cost -- items that used to cost 25 cents topped $7 at one point. Since COVID-19’s arrival, testing has been the Achilles heel of all strategies. As Ohio steps up its testing mandates, the costs are unsustainable. If more support doesn't come, closures are a reality.”

  • Gary Anderson, CEO, Lutheran Senior Services, St. Louis, MO, a provider of retirement community, home and community-based services, and affordable housing

“COVID has made this the most difficult year in our 160-year history. In the early days of the crisis, we lacked the necessary PPE and vendors did not have the inventory to supply us. It’s still hard to locate PPE—and we are spending tenfold on what we can afford. If we continue our current practices, we’ll be on track to spend over $1.5 million in testing, without assurance of full reimbursement.”

“Every one of our members is short on staffing. Many staff are working 70-plus hours a week. Our members are spending an average of over $67,000 per month on PPE due to COVID out of their own pockets without any financial support. They’ve spent over $600,000 on testing out of their own pockets. This is not sustainable.”

  • Bhakti Gosalia, Vice President of Operations, Sun Health, Arizona, a senior living and philanthropically-supported community wellness organization.

“It’s taking a long time to get test kits, and even longer to get results. FEMA is providing some of our members PPE supplies worth about $100 a month, but our members are spending about $67,000 a month.”

  • Evan Lubline, CEO, Hooverwood Living, Indianapolis, IN, which offers skilled nursing and assisted living services

“We can get PPE, but the problem is paying for it at $30,000 per month. And pandemic pay for staff is as much as $45,000 monthly. We’ve been losing $300,000-$350,000 monthly. We are in the fight for our lives. If we can’t get more help, we have to think about how we keep our doors open then.”

  • David Trost, President & CEO, St. John’s United, Billings, MT, a provider of a continuum of services including home health, hospice, skilled nursing, independent and assisted living

“We are proposing solutions and developing partnerships, each needing government support. We have tried to purchase our own POC testing for nursing our nursing home since March only to be told we were not allowed to buy by the order of FEMA, five months later we received one. We are working to stand up our own testing ability locally so tests are not flown across the country for analysis, only to be told we supplies will not be available, We offered our facilities to the state of Montana for a geriatric covid-19 treatment centers to free hospital capacity and better care for older americans and that was turned down due to expense. We have solutions, we need more government support and resources.”

  • Danny Williams, President & CEO, Eliza Bryant Village, Cleveland, OH, the oldest continually operating African American-founded long term care facility in the U.S.

“What kind of society would we be if we allowed an organization committed to caring for some of the poorest and sickest among us to fail? The reality is our survival (so far at least) has been the result of a committed board and staff , culturally competent care, and cobbled-together emergency funding. However, we will need additional help if we are to ultimately withstand this pandemic. We have. But what happens next?”

“Adults over 60 account for more than 9 in 10 deaths in Indiana—even as government data suggests that many nursing homes in the state lack even a week’s supply of masks and gowns. We’ve even had members driving around to big box hardware and farming supply stores to obtain these and other items.”

  • Stephen Fleming, President & Chief Executive Officer, The Well•Spring Group, North Carolina, a multi-modal aging services provider serving over one thousand individuals and their families.

“Without personal protective equipment and testing, we cannot have visitation. What do we say to families that are at our doorsteps, begging to see loved ones? To deny them the basic human right of socialization because we cannot as a society come up with testing is wrong. I urge Congress not to abandon us now.”

  • Carol Silver Elliott, President & CEO of Jewish Home Family, New Jersey, a skilled nursing home, assisted living and at-home and community services for seniors in New Jersey.

“We’re fed-exing tests to an out-of-state lab and wait days for results, at a cost of $50,000 a week, costs that are not picked up by state or feds. To this day, our most reliable source of PPE is someone whose name we still don’t know—who we just call ‘parking lot guy.’ It is a tragedy and a disgrace that the fight to save the lives of older adults—the fight of our lives—is being waged without support, without resources, without help.”

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.>/p>