The senior living industry should be exempt from a proposed federal rule aimed at protecting health care workers from exposure to Covid-19, according to Argentum CEO James Balda.
At the root of the issue is a U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) interim final rule establishing an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to “protect health care and health care support service workers from occupational exposure to Covid-19 in settings where people with Covid-19 are reasonably expected to be present.”
The rule originally required that employers of health care workers — including assisted living communities — develop and implement a plan to stop and mitigate the spread of Covid-19; ensure physical distancing of employees; and provide workers personal protective equipment, including N95 respirators.
OSHA largely withdrew the rule last December, but began soliciting additional comments on it last month in order to align the rule with newer recommendations from the CDC and potentially relax certain provisions pertaining to masking and social distancing, among other issues
Although Balda said that the industry association “appreciates OSHA’s efforts to protect health care and health care support service workers from exposure and harm to Covid-19,” applying the rule to senior living communities would only add to the industry’s financial and operational burdens.
For one, Balda noted that senior living communities already have enacted effective infection control measures, and are also subject to state and local regulations governing them. But on top of that, assisted living facilities should be exempt from the requirements, given the limited services that are provided there, he added.
“Senior living is a home- and community-based model that encompasses a wide range of care settings for older adults, combining housing and supportive services and facilitating health care … but not providing health care,” Balda during an OSHA public comment hearing Wednesday. “Most importantly, our members’ residents consider these communities their homes.”
Balda also noted that senior living communities typically carry fewer risks than “hospital ambulatory care settings” and “non-hospital ambulatory care settings,” which were both exempt from the OSHA rule provided they screened non-employees and took certain other precautions.
“As such, we believe that any final rulemaking by the agency should exclude senior living communities from its scope,” Balda said.
OSHA plans to hear more public comments on the rulemaking on April 28, 29 and May 2.