(Alexandria, Va.) – Argentum, the nation’s leading advocacy group for senior living communities, on April 27 told a hearing of the Dept. of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that a proposed rule on occupational exposure to COVID-19 in healthcare settings that could see residents forced to don masks and partition rooms with plexiglass misses the point that senior living communities are homes and not facilities.
In a public hearing, Argentum President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) James Balda cast doubt on whether the proposal should apply to senior living, telling the OSHA board that steps to protect workers from COVID-10 would do more harm than good for residents, and said if implemented the regulation would add another layer of financial distress to the profession and chase away desperately needed workers.
“While Argentum appreciates OSHA’s efforts to protect healthcare and healthcare support service workers from exposure and harm from COVID-19, we believe that the nature of the services our members provide and the residences in which they are provided differs significantly from that provided by other types of settings like nursing facilities, and should thus be outside the scope of ‘healthcare services’ as the term is used by OSHA in this rulemaking,” Balda said. He added that Argentum members’ residents consider their communities as their homes, making many of the requirements in OSHA’s rulemaking inconsistent with this concept.
“For example, erecting physical barriers throughout the facilities can be a cause of confusion and stress for the residents, especially those suffering from cognitive impairment. The same can be said for the requirement to mask within an individual’s own home,” Balda told the hearing.
OSHA’s proposed final rule follows the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) issued last June that was largely withdrawn in December. OSHA began soliciting additional comments on the rule last month on alignment with the CDC’s recommendations, flexibility for employers, recordkeeping and reporting, and several other issues.
Argentum submitted public comments last week arguing that assisted living communities should be exempt from the requirements given the limited healthcare services that are provided. The association also raised concerns about the rule being duplicative with other guidance and not as flexible to change, and burdensome for operators especially given the continued workforce shortages.
Argentum had previously submitted comments on the ETS when it was originally issued.
Senior living communities have also proved to be a lower-risk environment than “hospital ambulatory care settings” and “non-hospital ambulatory care settings,” which were exempt from the ETS in certain circumstances.
“As such, we believe that any final rulemaking by the agency should exclude senior living communities from its scope,” Balda said.
If implemented, the nation’s senior living communities would face even more financial problems to add its current dire situation, he noted to the OSHA board. Argentum estimates that senior living communities have amassed $30 billion in losses over the course of the pandemic from the costs of protecting residents and staff, and lost revenue from lost new business.
Balda also told OSHA that senior living communities are already subject to stringent infection control requirements at the state and local level and has “implemented enhanced protocols to prevent COVID-19 from entering the community, and to mitigate the spread of, and otherwise limit the harm from COVID-19. These efforts have allowed our members to implement dynamic infection control programs that have kept their residents safe.”
According to a survey from NORC at the University of Chicago, two-thirds of assisted living communities had no COVID-19 related fatalities in 2020. Furthermore, the fatality rate in senior living communities was 1/3 of skilled nursing care facilities (19.3 fatalities per 1,000 residents in assisted living, compared to 59.6 per 1,000 in SNFs). Notably, these results are reflective of calendar year 2020, largely before vaccines became available to further protect residents and staff. Since that time, senior living communities have led successful efforts to vaccinate both residents and staff.
Read the testimony at here.
Argentum is the leading national association exclusively dedicated to supporting companies operating professionally managed, resident-centered senior living communities and the older adults and families they serve. Since 1990, Argentum has advocated for choice, independence, dignity, and quality of life for all older adults.
Argentum’s programs and initiatives are driven by its membership. For more information about joining Argentum, please visit www.argentum.org.
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