LeadingAge providers appealed to the federal government Thursday to provide immediate access to ample PPE for frontline and healthcare workers to keep them safe during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“PPE literally stands between us and infection. It stands between health and illness, and it is so critically important, as is the access to testing,” Carol Silver Elliott, LeadingAge board chairwoman and president and CEO of Jewish Home Family, said during a LeadingAge press conference. 

The call for PPE is a part of LeadingAge’s five-point action plan for policymakers to help protect seniors and workers as some states start to reopen. The organization wants states to provide assurances that they won’t reopen without first ensuring seniors are safe and protected under the plan.

The plan also calls for the recognition of frontline workers in nursing homes, assisted living, affordable housing and home- and community-based settings; access to on-demand access to rapid testing and results for seniors and providers; and for Congress to allocate $100 billion to cover COVID-19 needs and provide support to aging services. 

The funding would be used to provide hazard pay for frontline workers, federal housing assistance, support to deliver telehealth, access to loans, Medicaid increases and administrative relief. 

Katie Smith-Sloan
Katie Smith Sloan

“Our nation has undervalued and underinvested in older adults for far too long. It didn’t have to come to this, but here we are. These five essential actions must be taken now,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said. 

Smith Sloan added that the organization’s hopes were raised when it was announced that FEMA would provide PPE to nursing homes, but they were quickly dashed when they learned it would only be two weeks worth of supplies. 

“This is just a drop in the bucket and it overlooks the millions of vulnerable older adults in assisted living, affordable housing and in other care settings,” Smith Sloan said. 

Help from the ‘Parking Lot Guy’

 During the call, providers told stories of having to “scrounge for [personal protective equipment] in places that they can’t even begin to describe.” 

Jewish Home Family, a skilled nursing, assisted living and at-home and community services provider in New York and New Jersey, has seen its rate of PPE usage increase drastically, according to Silver Elliott, who said the company has spent more in one month of PPE than it does in an entire year. 

Silver Elliott said her staff is “fighting to find personal protective equipment,” and there’s been “little or no help” in that fight, and she worries about smaller providers who don’t have their same connections and resources. 

“We actually have some of the most success with a person we refer to only as ‘Parking Lot Guy.’ We don’t even know his name. He’s actually met with us in parking lots. We’ve been able to take a deep breath and wire money in bank accounts we’ve been told to wire money to, and the supplies — thankfully — have appeared and have also been of good quality,” Silver Elliott said.