By Steve Moran

On May 18, 2020, Katie Sloan, the president and CEO of LeadingAge released the following in response to the recent statement from CMS on using caution with respect to nursing homes. She seems to be the only one who is willing to really hold the federal government accountable for the nursing home tragedies we are seeing in the news. She is my hero for this.

“Today’s CMS statement raises many questions, but doesn’t answer the most important one: When will vulnerable older Americans and their caregivers get the support needed to protect them from the most dangerous pandemic in a century?

Like the Administration, we too want to have a plan to safely reopen nursing homes, and we agree that testing is essential. The reality is that too many nursing homes and other aging services providers are still desperately in need of testing and personal protective equipment (PPE), and we don’t know when or if it’s coming. We need these tools to make reopening possible.

The guidance from CMS is not grounded in these everyday realities of our members. We need a plan for testing. We need access to adequate testing supplies and PPE. And we need funding to make both of those possible for the brave people who care for vulnerable older adults day in and day out. Our members pay between $200,000 and $250,000 per week to test staff just twice a week. That’s $1 million dollars a month. Nursing homes need help from federal or state governments to cover these necessary costs. Today’s guidance delivers none of that.

How is it possible that four months have passed since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis and real help is still not on the way?

Our communities are tired of news conferences, photo ops, and guidance that comes without tangible resources and hands-on help. Nursing homes and other aging services providers know how to fight the virus, but they need real help, not symbols.

Older lives are not expendable. Any plan that leaves nursing homes, assisted living communities, and other aging services providers without immediate and consistent access to life-saving tests and PPE is a deadly failure.

To protect vulnerable older Americans, any strategy must contain five essential actions:

  1. States should not reopen without first ensuring older Americans are safe and protected. Our most vulnerable can’t be forced to compete with nail salons and gyms for life-protecting supplies on the open market.
  2. All care providers who serve older Americans need immediate access to ample PPE. Policymakers must prioritize aging services providers on the same priority tier as hospitals.
  3. Older adults and their care providers must have on-demand access to rapid-results testing, also on the same priority tier as hospitals. Results are needed in minutes, not days or weeks.
  4. We must provide recognition for the heroic frontline workers who are risking and sometimes losing their lives serving older Americans – just as we’ve recognized hospital workers and others who have kept America running.
  5. Saving the lives of older adults means that these promises must be kept with real funding and support. Congress must allocate $100 billion to cover COVID-19 needs – and provide critical support for aging services like hazard pay for frontline workers, increased loans, Medicaid funding, federal housing assistance, and access to telehealth.”

I believe ASHA, AHCA/NCAL, and Argentum should join LeadingAge and play hardball on this important issue. We do not need more regulations as some are proposing. The current overbearing regulatory system proves that more regulations are not the secret sauce.

I confess that as I watched various armed forces flyovers this past week, my heart broke, to realize that it was all about honoring hospital workers and completely ignored the workers in senior living. It was as if those workers did not exist.

How about giving them their own flyover?

Mostly we have been playing nice, not wanting to be fighting with the government. After all who really wants a fight? But honest to God, being nice has done no good at all.

Go, Katie, Go . . . who is going to join her in this fight?