Every year, more than five million older adults and individuals with disabilities receive care in a long term care facility, such as a nursing home or assisted living community. COVID-19 poses serious risk to this population due to their age and weakened immune systems: according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, the risk of mortality in their age group is 630 times higher than those 18 to 29 years old.

While tens of thousands of residents from these facilities have recovered, it is estimated that approximately 40% of the deaths due to COVID-19 in the U.S. prior to vaccine rollout were individuals who were living in a long term care facility, despite being only 6% of total U.S. cases.

As dedicated long term care staff are performing heroic work to combat COVID-19, they are overcoming historic and ongoing challenges. Long term care facilities were not made a priority at the beginning of the crisis. Critical resources were directed toward hospitals, leaving long term care facilities at a severe disadvantage to protect residents and staff. Due to strains on the worldwide supply chain and our nation’s testing capacity, many long term care facilities struggled to acquire a regular supply of PPE and testing with reliable and rapid results. 

Meanwhile, nursing homes have been historically underfunded for the actual cost of care, and due extensive costs needed to fight COVID-19, many facilities are now on the brink of closure. 90% of nursing homes are currently operating at a loss, and two-thirds say they will not be able to sustain operations for another year. Additionally, assisted living communities have received minimal government support during the pandemic, despite also primarily serving our nation’s vulnerable seniors. More than half of assisted living communities say they won’t be able to keep their doors open for another year.

Nursing homes and assisted living communities are doing everything they can to stop the spread of COVID-19, but they need to be made a priority for resources from the federal government. While residents and staff roll up their sleeves to #GetVaccinated, the pandemic persists and challenges remain – and we must continue to advocate for seniors to receive utmost care and protection during this critical time.

While Congress and the White House have taken steps to aid nursing homes and assisted living communities during the pandemic, our nation’s focus cannot waver. These health care providers need additional support in order to effectively protect seniors and those with underlying conditions, as well as staff who care for them.

As we seek to address the immediate crisis at-hand, nursing homes also aim to learn from this tragedy and bring forth a brighter future. AHCA and LeadingAge have developed the following reforms that, with proper funding, will help create a more robust, quality long term care system, laid out in the Care For Our Seniors Act.

  • Clinical: Enhance the Quality of Care
    • Enhanced infection control
    • 24-hour RN support
    • Minimum 30-day supply of PPE
  • Workforce: Strengthen and Support our Frontline Caregivers
    • Loan forgiveness, tax credits and other programs to increase recruitment and retention within the long term care workforce
  • Oversight: Improve Systems to be More Resident-Driven
    • Survey improvements for better resident care
    • Identify chronic poor performing facilities and develop turnaround plans
    • Report customer satisfaction through the Five-Star rating system
  • Structural: Modernize for Patient Dignity & Safety
    • Shift to private rooms to support privacy, autonomy and enhance infection control

It’s time for policymakers to rally around long term care residents and staff the same way they have around hospital patients and workers. We must take all possible actions to ensure our nation’s most vulnerable are protected as we navigate this crisis and prepare for the future. We need action now to prevent this from worsening or happening again. View the full outline of necessary reforms laid out in the Care For Our Seniors Act.

Learn more about the latest impacts of COVID-19 on long term care facilities by visiting the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living’s COVID-19 Nursing Home Dashboard.