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The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the problems and concerns facing our seniors.

In a letter to our Speaker, the Secretary of Health, Rachel Levine, M.D., conveyed the following information on Friday, May 15, 2020:

“Sadly, 4,342 of our citizens have died due to COVID-19. Of these 4,342 tragic deaths, 2,991 of these persons lived in nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living residences. That means 69% those who have died lived in these types of settings.”

The disease has taken its largest toll on seniors from a health perspective, and on young working families from a financial perspective as well as a family perspective for those caring for their elderly parents or those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

As a member of the Aging and Older Adult Services committee in Harrisburg, I have seen firsthand the struggles and issues facing our aging population.

First, it is clear Pennsylvania is an aging state. We have been graying for quite some time. This has created a rich heritage in our communities as we interact with one another, but it is also not without its challenges.

Prior to the pandemic, whenever I would visit Londonderry Village, Traditions of Hershey, Columbia Cottage, Cornwall Manor, and other residences, the recurring concern I heard from residents was outliving assets available for care. Most recently thought, the isolation that many seniors are feeling from the quarantine has yet to be fully understood.

Middle-aged couples who may be raising children themselves are also concerned about caring for their parents. This causes significant financial strain for all those involved. Such families are facing burdens almost beyond comprehension.

Facility managers expressed concerns about rapidly escalating costs of care, government regulations, tort issues from trial attorneys, and a myriad of conflicting regulations from the multitudes of payors.

COVID-19 pointed out that seniors, those of us over age 65 and especially those with underlying medical conditions, were most susceptible to the illness. In our hearings recently, the industry sounded the alarm that the crisis is immediately upon us and that without significant financial support, the industry would potentially collapse.

Costs of senior programs in Pennsylvania have increased to $11.2 billion in the 2019-20 budget up $1.5 billion from the prior year. We expected costs to increase at a rate of $1 billion per year for the foreseeable future but it now seems that costs will increase by $1.5 billion per year to care for seniors AFTER a $2 billion infusion to stabilize the industry.

Recently, for example, I received a request for state support for a $400,000 COVID-19 grant from one of the care facilities in our area. There will be more requests most certainly.

In the House, we are focusing our efforts on the following:

  • Emergency Funding – Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Pennsylvania, operating costs for long-term care providers have increased by nearly 400%. Some of this cost has been absorbed with $290 million in funding from the first and second rounds of federal stimulus money as well as a 3% Medicaid rate increase.
  • Priority Testing – Workers and residents may have COVID-19 but may be totally asymptomatic; however, they can still spread the virus.
  • Priority Personal Protective Equipment
  • Medical Liability Protections except in cases of gross negligence – COVID-19 has altered the delivery of healthcare services in Pennsylvania. Although necessary, the constant evolution of guidance and recommendations from CMS, the CDC, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health has raised concern about the potential liability of providers and the workers caring for residents.

The changes in guidance from the Department of Health relative to senior care facilities accepting active COVID-19 patients but after allowing for a reduction in staff and a reduction in inspections created an unacceptable situation for those most in need. This issue is currently the basis for an ongoing investigation into the handling of the crisis at all levels.

The impact of inadequate Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates became painfully clear during this pandemic. Those financial issues impacted staff pay, hazardous duty for staff during the pandemic, high turnover, and staff shortages. Families and government at all levels need to address the escalating issues now.

The paradox is that if we do not address all of the myriad of problems for the centers there is likely to be a critical shortage of healthcare facilities for seniors in Pennsylvania as well as a massive financial cost to families and government alike.

As a senior myself and a CPA, I would encourage all Pennsylvanians to get active in this issue.

If you have specific concerns or questions, please call our offices so we can help you and your family.

Frank Ryan is the state Representative for the 101st Legislative District, which includes southern and western portions of Lebanon County. Ryan is a CPA and a retired U.S. Marine Reserve Colonel. He can be reached at FRYAN1951@aol.com or through his website.

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