WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump held a one-hour conference on Thursday, April 30, at the White House entitled “Protecting America’s Seniors” in which he touted the government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, specifically as it applies to residents of skilled nursing facilities.
“As we honor the incredible contributions of our nation’s seniors, we are here today to discuss the unprecedented steps we that we’re taking to protect them from the virus,” said Trump. “I’ll also announce vital new actions to safeguard our nursing homes and most vulnerable citizens as we gradually and safely reopen our country.”
The president specifically called out the government’s suggestion in March to cease allowing visitors, the issuance of home-delivered meals, the expansion of tele-health options and the use of the National Guard to help disinfect and test for the virus at skilled nursing facilities.
James Balda, CEO of Argentum, a Virginia-based organization serving seniors housing operators around the country, was an invited guest at the conference. While he praised the Trump administration for “shining a light on the urgent needs of our seniors,” he added that help should also be given to private-pay seniors housing.
“We feel there is much more that needs to be done for senior living communities, which include assisted living, independent living, memory care and continuing care communities,” says Balda. “Like nursing homes, senior living communities have critical needs right now, including expanded testing, PPE [personal protective equipment] and financial relief so that they can continue safeguarding the nearly 2 million seniors who reside in our communities and the nearly 1 million employees who work in them.”
“We are urging the administration not to overlook senior living communities, which are a critical part of the health care continuum and are acting right now as a critical backstop to hospitals,” adds Balda.
Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit providers of aging services based in Washington, D.C., had stronger words in response to the presentation.
“The president claimed that ‘We’re taking very special care of our nursing homes and our seniors.’ This is false,” says Sloan. “The time for talk, symbolism and proclamations has passed. It’s time for action from the White House and Congress.”
“For weeks and weeks, vulnerable older adults have been living in fear as infections and death tolls climbed, not knowing whether the equipment, testing and support they need to protect their lives would arrive in time,” continues Sloan. “For the millions of other older Americans being cared for outside of nursing homes — in assisted living, HUD-assisted housing for low-income older adults, life plan communities, hospices, and in our homes and communities — the government offered practically nothing today. Nothing.”
Sloan urged the government to prioritize seniors when distributing COVID-19 tests and supplies such as PPE.
“Life-saving equipment that was promised weeks ago has been further delayed, leaving caregivers to keep fighting and scrounging for every mask and gown they can muster,” says Sloan. “Some have resorted to wearing trash bags to protect themselves and those they care for.”