Sens. Warren, Markey Push for Assisted Living Scrutiny, Seek Info from Large Providers

Two U.S. senators from Massachusetts and the chair of the House Oversight Committee are asking some of the largest providers of senior living in the U.S. to provide more information about their Covid-19 infection rates and response measures.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) this week sent a letter to eight of the nation’s top 10 largest senior living providers, plus three others, requesting responses to questions related to Covid-19. Included on the initial distribution list shared with Senior Housing News were the leaders of Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD), LCS and Life Care Services, Sunrise Senior Living, Five Star Senior Living (NYSE: FVE), Atria Senior Living, Senior Lifestyle Corp., Capital Senior Living (NYSE: CSU), Affinity Living Group, Eclipse Senior Living, Gardant Management Solutions and Enlivant.

In the letter, the lawmakers expressed concern that another crisis is playing out in assisted living parallel to the one that is occurring in nursing homes across the country.

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“Assisted living facilities deserve particular scrutiny in this pandemic because they share several of the same characteristics that increase risks at nursing homes – a population of senior citizens, many with chronic health problems, living and interacting closely together,” the letter reads. “But they face a significantly less stringent regulatory environment.”

The letter asks recipients to answer 18 questions by May 8 covering how they’re responding to Covid-19.

Included in the letter are questions related to the frequency of Covid-19 testing for residents, what providers are doing when residents test positive, how providers are reporting such cases, if they have requirements for using personal protective equipment (PPE), what they’re doing about visitors and whether they are following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). The letter also includes questions on training, paid sick leave, family and medical leave and hazard pay for senior living workers.

David Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), alerted the organization’s members to the letter on Thursday. He believes all of ASHA’s members who received it will comply with the request for more information. And in corresponding with Congress, providers will have the opportunity to share more than what’s asked, such as data on infected residents who have recovered from Covid-19 and how often staff are tested for the disease.

“I am confident that all have done everything in their power to ensure the wellbeing of their residents and staff during this ongoing crisis,” Schless told SHN. “The inquiry will allow these companies to share their experiences to date, and I would expect most will point out the challenges associated with accessing testing kits in the markets in which they operate.”

It’s not immediately clear how the data will be used once it’s collected, or if the effort could result in more federal oversight for the senior living industry. Unlike nursing homes — most of which receive federal dollars in the form of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements — the senior living industry has avoided much regulation from the federal government due to its overwhelmingly private-pay model.

At the same time, some industry leaders feel as though senior living providers have not received nearly as much federal aid as they deserve. For instance, LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said that a recent White House plan to distribute masks for nursing homes offers “practically nothing” for other providers of services and care for older adults.

Neither Warren nor Markey’s offices were able to comment on the effort as of the time this article was published.

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