As the coronavirus outbreak continues and more states begin the process of reopening, LeadingAge is demanding action from policymakers to help keep seniors and the workers who care for them safe.
The advocacy organization — which represents more than 5,000 aging-focused organizations nationwide, including at-home care agencies — is urging lawmakers to equip senior care providers with more personal protective equipment (PPE), better testing capabilities and additional funding and support. These actions are essential to keeping frail populations and their caregivers safe amid the COVID-19 emergency.
Eight in 10 people who have died as a result of the coronavirus are over the age of 65. However, many senior care providers are being forced to put themselves in harm’s way to keep those at-risk populations safe.
“Aging services providers … have not been able to get the PPE or testing they need to protect older Americans or their employees,” Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, said Thursday during a virtual press conference. “So aging care providers are fighting and scrounging for every mask and gown they can muster. Some have resorted to wearing trash bags for protection. … [Others] say they are spending a year’s worth of an ordinary year’s budget in just one month.”
Rockleigh, New Jersey-based Jewish Home Family is one such organization that has struggled with sourcing PPE. The senior care provider offers skilled nursing, assisted living and home- and community-based care services to seniors in New York and New Jersey.
Since the coronavirus hit in March, Jewish Home’s PPE use has skyrocketed. It’s currently up 200% from normal, President and CEO Carol Silver-Elliott said during the press conference.
The struggle to source enough supplies has Silver-Elliott turning to places she’s never looked before — like to a stranger in a parking lot.
“We actually have [had] some of the most success with a person we refer to only as ‘parking lot guy,’” Silver-Elliott said. “We don’t even know his name. He’s actually met with us at parking lots. We’ve been able to take a deep breath and wire money to bank accounts we’ve been told to wire money to, and the supplies thankfully have appeared — and have also been of good quality.”
Jewish Home isn’t alone in its struggle.
According to a recent poll, more than half of all LeadingAge members indicate their current supply of PPE is expected to last two weeks or less. Meanwhile, more than 90% of all organizations with current COVID-19 diagnoses have reported that PPE is a concern.
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced plans to send PPE to each of the country’s more than 15,000 nursing homes, that one program alone doesn’t cut it, Sloan argued.
“Our hopes were up when we heard that FEMA was stepping in with PPE, but they were soon dashed when it was announced that nursing homes would receive a grand total of two weeks’ worth of supplies, and shipments would not be completed until sometime in July,” she said. “This is just a drop in the bucket.”
On top of that, the FEMA plan leaves out other senior care providers, such as home-based care agencies.
To keep the COVID-19 virus from further devastating the senior population and caregivers working the space, the federal government must jump into action, Sloan stressed. That need is becoming even more pronounced as states continue to reopen.
“We are at a fork in the road,” Sloan said. “Do we ignore and sacrifice the lives of older Americans by reopening without regard to the consequences, or do we take action now?”