Statement From LeadingAge: Administration Announcement Offers Little More Than Words

PRESS RELEASE | May 12, 2020 | by Lisa Sanders

“Literally the least that can be done”: Administration announcement offers little more than words for millions of vulnerable adults

Contact: Lisa Sanders

202-508-9407 lsanders@leadingage.org

May 11, 2020 Washington DC – From Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, the association of nonprofit providers of aging services, including nursing homes, assisted living, and home health care:

After months of  pleading for help with access to testing and personal protective equipment (PPE), nursing homes and other aging services providers were desperately awaiting word from the White House today that their voices had been heard—and that help would be on the way.

Instead, we heard that “we have prevailed” on testing, but wishing does not make it so. Too many nursing homes still don’t have access to any kind of testing.  

The President this afternoon barely mentioned millions of vulnerable older adults in nursing homes, and made no mention of those in other care settings. An entire generation of adults and care workers have been left to fend for themselves in the face of the worst pandemic in a century. The federal government has a responsibility to coordinate a response.

News reports today said the White House recommended to governors that all nursing home residents and staff be tested for the virus in the next two weeks and the White House said it will help states that need it.

There is no clarity on how this help is coming—two months after the start of the pandemic that requires testing to limit its spread. We need test results in minutes, not days to contain the virus and to ensure that we do not lose staff while waiting for results. We also need ongoing testing, not just a Bandaid—especially since so many carrying the virus are asymptomatic.

The time to start leading was months ago—at the beginning of the crisis, when it was clear that millions of vulnerable older adults were in mortal danger. And we still don’t have the leadership we need.

In the middle of a massive shortage of testing and PPE in nursing homes, assisted living, and other care settings for older adults, a White House phone call with governors to encourage more testing for nursing homes and an offer of token support is literally the least that can be done.   

Two weeks ago, I attended a White House event to hear an announcement from the President that would affect nursing home providers, residents, and front-line workers. I waited eagerly to hear that months into the pandemic, the White House would finally turn its attention to securing desperately needed PPE and testing that could protect lives—and let health care providers focus on helping vulnerable residents instead of scrounging for masks and gowns. I had hoped that moment would come today, but was sorely disappointed.

Older Americans have been overlooked from the beginning of this pandemic, with policymakers failing to prioritize PPE and testing for nursing homes, assisted living, and other care providers going without needed PPE and testing. Some have resorted to wearing trash bags and others have had to rely on someone they call “Parking Lot Guy” to supply much needed PPE.

Unanswered Questions

Today’s announcements also leave behind a cloud of questions that decide whether today’s announcement goes beyond words:

  • What help does this provide to millions of vulnerable adults cared for in non-nursing home settings?
  • Will these be rapid-result tests? If not, how are nursing home residents supposed to cope if care workers have to be quarantined while awaiting test results?
  • Since COVID-19 is affecting uncounted numbers of new people every day, what happens after 2 weeks?
  • What about desperately needed PPE?

Older Americans’ Lives at Stake: Five Essential Actions

Last week, LeadingAge released a new plan—Older Americans Lives at Stake: Five Essential Actions—that laid out the fundamental steps that policymakers must take to protect older adults and the people who care for them:

1.      Assurance that states will not reopen without first ensuring older Americans are safe and protected. 

2.       Immediate access to ample PPE for all care providers who serve older Americans, not just nursing homes. Policymakers must act now to get these providers on the same priority tier as hospitals.  

3.      On-demand access to rapid-results testing for older adults and their care providers. Aging services providers must also be on the same priority tier as hospitals. Results are needed in minutes, not days or weeks.

4.      Recognition for the heroic frontline workers serving older Americans in nursing homes, assisted living, affordable housing, and home and community based settings, including hospice—just as we’ve recognized hospital workers and others who have kept America running.

5.       Funding and support for aging services providers across the continuum of care. In its next relief package, Congress must allocate $100 billion to cover COVID-19 needs, and provide critical support for aging services: hazard pay for frontline workers, federal housing assistance, support to deliver telehealth, access to loans, Medicaid increases, and administrative relief

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.