New federal guidance urges eldercare facility operators to use “extreme caution” when deciding whether and how to reopen facilities to visitors after coronavirus lockdowns. But the directives overlook a critical issue, says Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge.

“Too many nursing homes and other aging services providers are still desperately in need of testing and personal protective equipment, and we don’t know when or if it’s coming,” she said on Monday. LeadingAge members are tired of “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.”

Her statements follow new directives issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services calling on states to “have a plan in place” to safely reunite nursing home residents with family members.

The agency recommends that states consider the following before relaxing visitor restrictions it instituted nationwide in mid-March:

  • Status of COVID-19 cases in the local community
  • Status of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes
  • Adequate staffing
  • Baseline test of all residents, weekly testing of all staff, practicing social distancing, and universal source control for residents and visitors (e.g., face coverings)
  • Access to adequate personal protective equipment
  • Local hospital capacity

Sloan said that health officials need to go further by putting aging services providers in the top tier of the coronavirus priority list, in line with hospitals. This includes ensuring on-demand access to rapid-results testing and help with procuring PPE. Providers should not need to compete on the open market for protective gear, she added.

Sloan is advocating that Congress allocate $100 billion to cover COVID-19 needs and provide critical support for aging services. She recommends hazard pay for frontline workers, increased loans, Medicaid funding increases, federal housing assistance, and greater access to telehealth services.