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More senior assisted living funding needed in COVID-19 bill being debated in Washington

Society is learning to live with COVID-19 by modifying individual behaviors — wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart, and avoiding large gatherings. But for the vulnerable senior population and those living in congregate settings, it is becoming quite clear that frequent, accurate, and effective rapid testing and, ultimately, vaccinations are not only the best defense against COVID-19.

Today, more than two million older adults are living in senior living and assisted living communities across the country. These communities are not nursing homes, but they serve the same vulnerable population of seniors — our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, mentors and American heroes. And in comparison, senior living and assisted living communities have received only a fraction of the federal funding and testing support that nursing homes have received to date. All in all, it is estimated that the financial toll on the senior living industry will surpass $15 billion. Additional funding is critically needed to offset the ongoing and future expenses of essential testing and vaccine administration in these communities, in addition to the rising costs of operating due to staffing, PPE and other rising costs. In Pennsylvania alone, the loss to the state economy from these rising costs for senior care has been close to $500 million, and growing.

Many questions about COVID-19 remain unanswered, but there is one thing we know for certain: The senior population is at increased risk when contracting COVID-19 and we need to continue to prioritize them and those who serve them in future plans and relief efforts. I urge Congressional representatives to secure the health and wellbeing of our most vulnerable Americans by ensuring that senior living communities have the financial resources to administer widespread testing and future vaccines.

Margie Zelenak is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Assisted Living Association.

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