By Pam McDonald

Foresight Radio Producer Pam McDonald gets a review of the 117th Congress and is filled in on Argentum’s new advocacy initiative from its Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, Maggie Elehwany. Maggie discusses the value of participating in government, what she believes will be President Biden’s priorities, and also introduces Argentum Advocates, the Association’s new program to shape public policy for senior living. This interview was recorded prior to the inauguration and has been lightly edited. Read Part 1 here. Listen to the entire episode here.

We Have A Strong Story

And our story is so strong because so many of our owners are not only caring for the most vulnerable population but maybe even are caring for members of Congress’ loved ones — their parents, their grandparents, their aunts, their uncles. They may be familiar with your work along those lines. If not, you need to introduce them to the great things that you do.

We offer a safe, caring choice for those last years of life for many individuals. We are the answer to so many families who struggle with their ability or inability to care for their loved ones. We need to tell members of Congress the great things, the great personal stories about what we’re doing for seniors. That includes making the connection of how significant we are to the local economy. We went through a period in this country where the economy was booming on all cylinders, and then, of course, COVID hit. Everything shut down. 

And now we’re in an incredibly tough time where we need to figure out how to jumpstart the economy. We need to remind members of Congress how important we are as employers; about the large workforce we hire and provide benefits to. Often, we’re as large and significant, not only as the nursing home community but as motels and hotels, the lodging industry. We need to start talking about those kinds of numbers. We’d get a lot of people, especially some of those fiscal conservatives in Congress, to really perk up and listen. Our story is very strong.

Advocacy Reminds Us ‘We’re All Part of Democracy’

This is an electronic, social media age. There still is snail mail and Capitol Hill staff who spend their day opening constituent mail. When you join Argentum Advocates, we can help. We can provide you with and put you in direct contact with the specific go-to staff members to contact.

Freshmen members may not have any experience or understanding of senior living. Our grassroots outreach can make a difference. You can become that conduit for new staffers and help shape their understanding of what you do, as well as the importance of what you do. 

It could not be a more valuable position to be in, and you know what, it’s also a lot of fun. When you actually see the messy sausage-making of lawmaking at work, it’s amazing. And I think it’s good for everybody to be reminded that we are all part of this democracy. Just look at the homepage on our website, www.Argentum.com, for Argentum Advocates and click the button. 

Unfinished Business

As a candidate, Biden was really sticking to the Affordable Care Act; and how to build upon it to allow for a buy-in system to healthcare to keep it as affordable as possible. That’s really where we think the over-arching goal of this administration is going to be — strengthening ACA, expanding it, trying to get more states to expand Medicaid. That is going to be a base, a focal point.

One thing we are concerned about with Democrat control is the view to increase oversight and regulation of senior living. We had Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts and Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey introducing legislation that called for closer scrutiny of assisted living communities. They argue that because senior living is not regulated at a federal level, there’s not sufficient data to really scrutinize and figure out what went wrong with COVID. I anticipate we’re going to see a lot of oversight hearings trying to figure that out, how we can improve infection control in all congregate senior living settings. We need to expect this to occur and be prepared for it.

The new Finance Committee Chair is Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon, a fairly senior member who has some expertise in aging issues. He was very proud of being a co-director of the Gray Panthers in Oregon. He has taught gerontology at different schools. I can see there being a very heavy focus on protecting seniors in congregate care; ensuring there’s a vaccine, but also controlling the spread of infection. We anticipate the Health Committee as well as the Senate Aging Committee to really be looking at senior living with a close eye.

Time to Play Offense

So, what we need to do is share our story, make it personal, talk about the people we provide care for, keep the focus on them, talk about our tremendous reporting requirements, and our great safety records. If we do that, we can play offense and tell our story instead of having them come at us and say, ‘Well, you’re not doing this, that, or the other thing, and therefore you need to be regulated.”

 

 

Acknowledging Leaders

I just would like to thank senior living leaders for everything they’ve done this past year. It’s been challenging and we are so appreciative of those who are caring for our loved ones. It just puts everything in a whole new perspective. So, thank you. 

Again, I invite people, even if you haven’t really been interested in what’s going on in Washington. Yes, it is chaos. I can’t disagree, but it is so important to be involved. We promise we will make it easy. We will help you get your voice heard, and we will help make sense of what is going on. We will tell you why you should care. We know your time is very valuable, so we will send you messages only when we think it’s critical to email our members, only when we feel it’s absolutely necessary. But it is so important to get engaged now.

We really are going to see a change in the way the federal government views all types of senior care — from the nursing homes to assisted living, and on down the line. And, as I said, we have a great story to tell. We need to be proactive and tell that story before they tell us how to do our job, how to care for seniors. And that’s really what I want to leave folks with. It’s a critical time to be involved and we really welcome you to Argentum Advocates.

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