It’s time. Staff vaccinations required for nursing homes as 10 RI facilities see new COVID cases

Published in Rhode Island News Today on August 24, 2021

With the COVID-19 Delta variant spiking across the country especially among the unvaccinated, last Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced at an afternoon address at the White House that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will require nursing homes to require all workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition for those facilities to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.

According to federal data, of the 1.6 million nursing home workers across the  nation, about 540,000 — 40 percent of the work force — are unvaccinated.  

Since the spread of the Delta variant, there has been a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, especially in those states that have low rates of vaccinated workers. Both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) data confirm a strong relationship between the increase of COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents and the rate of vaccination among nursing home workers.

These new emergency federal regulations, crafted  by CDC and CMS, would apply to nearly 15,000 nursing home facilities, which employ approximately 1.6 million workers and serve approximately 1.3 million nursing home residents.

Rhode Island Gov. Dan J. McKee, along with other states, has already taken a similar step to protect nursing home residents by requiring all staff to be vaccinated and the new federal mandate will ensure consistent and equitable standards throughout the country. 

At a COVID-19 update held at the state the state capitol in early August, McKee called for the new vaccine mandate (as a term of employment) to take effect on Oct. 1st.

On August 23rd, Pfizer’s vaccine was fully approved by the FDA. Approvals of Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and booster shots are expected to follow soon.

According to CMS, the new mandate is a key component of protecting the health and safety of nursing home residents and staff by ensuring that all nursing home staff receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Over the past several months, millions of vaccinations have been administered to nursing home residents and staff, and these vaccines have shown to help prevent COVID-19 and have proven to be effective against the Delta variant.

“Keeping nursing home residents and staff safe is our priority. The data are clear that higher levels of staff vaccination are linked to fewer outbreaks among residents, many of whom are at an increased risk of infection, hospitalization, or death,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure in a statement announcing the new vaccine mandate.  “We will continue to work closely with our partners at the CDC, long-term care associations, unions, and other stakeholders to advance policies that keep residents and staff safe. As we advance these new requirements, we’ll work with nursing homes to address staff and resident concerns with compassion and by following the science,” she said.

CMS says that it’s requiring all nursing home staff to be vaccinated is in keeping with the federal agency’s authority to establish requirements to ensure the health and safety of individuals receiving care from all providers and suppliers participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. About 62% of nursing home staff are currently vaccinated as of August 8 nationally, and vaccination among staff at the state level ranges from a high of 88% to a low of 44%. The emergence of the Delta variant in the United States has driven a rise in cases among nursing home residents from a low of 319 cases on June 27, to 2,696 cases on August 8, with many of the recent outbreaks occurring in facilities located in areas of the United States with the lowest staff vaccination rates.

Last May, CMS issued new regulations that require Long-Term Care (LTC) facilities and Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (ICFs/IID) to educate residents, clients, and staff about COVID-19 vaccination and, when available, offer a COVID-19 vaccine to these individuals. These regulations also mandate that LTC facilities report weekly COVID-19 vaccination data for residents and staff to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN).

CMS will continue to analyze vaccination data for residents and staff from the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) data as an additional method of compliance monitoring and in keeping with current practice, as well as deploy the Quality Improvement Organizations (QIOs)—operated under the Medicare Quality Improvement Program—to educate and engage nursing homes with low rates of vaccinations.

CMS strongly encourages nursing home residents and staff members to get vaccinated as the Agency undergoes the necessary steps in the rule-making process over the course of the next several weeks. CMS expects nursing home operators to act in the best interest of residents and their staff by complying with these new rules, which the Agency expects to issue next month.  CMS also expects nursing home operators to use all available resources to support employees in getting vaccinated, including employee education and vaccination clinics, as they work to meet this staff vaccination requirement.

Rhode Island Long Term Care Facilities with new cases in the last 14 days (as of 8/14/2020):

These RI nursing homes are on the RI Dept. of Health list with increased cases –

Alpine – Coventry – 5-9 cases

Avalone – Warwick – less than 5

St. Antoine – North Smithfield – less than 5

Woonsocket Health – Woonsocket – less than 5

All America Assisted Living – Warwick – less than 5

Anchor Bay – Johnston – less than 5

Smithfield Woods – Smithfield – less than 5

Sunrise House – Providence – less than 5

Bridge at Cherry Hill – Johnston – 5-9

Tockwotton – Providence – less than 5

AARP Strongly Supports Biden’s Vaccine Mandate in Nursing Homes 

In response to the Biden Administration directing all nursing homes that receive Medicare or Medicaid funds to require vaccinations for all staff, Nancy A. LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer, stated:  

“The Administration’s announcement today requiring vaccinations for nursing home staff is a significant step in the fight against this pandemic. Around 30% of COVID deaths have been among residents and staff in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, even though they represent less than 1% of the population. As the new variants are emerging, facilities cannot let preventable problems be repeated. Increasing vaccination rates in nursing homes is one of the most common sense and powerful actions we can take to protect the lives of vulnerable older adults.”

The AARP Public Policy Institute, in collaboration with the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio, created the dashboard to provide snapshots of the virus’ infiltration into nursing homes and impact on nursing home residents and staff, with the goal of identifying specific areas of concern at the national and state levels in a timely manner.

Don’t Just Single Out Nursing Homes 

“We appreciate the Administration’s efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccinations in long term care. Unfortunately, this action does not go far enough. The government should not single out one provider group for mandatory vaccinations. Vaccination mandates for health care personnel should be applied to all health care settings. Without this, nursing homes face a disastrous workforce challenge,” warns Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) 

“Focusing only on nursing homes will cause vaccine hesitant workers to flee to other health care providers and leave many centers without adequate staff to care for residents. It will make an already difficult workforce shortage even worse. The net effect of this action will be the opposite of its intent and will affect the ability to provide quality care to our residents. We look forward to working with the Administration in the coming days to develop solutions to overcome this challenge,” says Parkinson.

The full Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard is available at www.aarp.org/nursinghomedashboard. For more information on how COVID is impacting nursing homes and AARP’s advocacy on this issue, visit www.aarp.org/nursinghomes.

AARP launches campaign to support Family Caregivers

Published in RINewsToday on July 5, 2021

With caregiving costs skyrocketing, and with caregivers now estimated to be spending $7,242 annually out-of-pocket, AARP launches a national campaign to push for passage of the Credit for Caring Act.

The Washington, DC-based aging advocacy group has endorsed the bipartisan legislative proposal that would provide up to a $5,000 nonrefundable federal tax credit for eligible working family caregivers. The caregiver bill was introduced on May 18th  in the Senate by Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and in the House by Representative Linda Sánchez (D-CA).

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP’s Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 study, there are an estimated 48 million Americans who provide care to either an adult or child with special needs at some time in the past 12 months. The study showed an increase of about 8 million caregivers from 2015 to 2020, indicating a significant growth in the nation’s caregivers’ population.

A 2019 AARP Public Policy Institute report noted that family caregivers in the United States provide $470 billion in uncompensated care.

Calling for Congressional Action to Assist Caregivers

AARP’s national campaign, urging passage of the Credit for Caring Act and more support for family caregivers, involves significant grassroots advocacy, including at least 60 tele-town halls, a major digital and video advertising initiative, and social media outreach through AARP’s national and state offices. Already, more than 100,000 contacts have been made with Members. In addition, more than 110 organizations, including 36 military and veterans service and support organizations, have joined AARP in asking Congress to pass the act. 

“This research reflects the incredible strain and sacrifices our 48 million family caregivers face every day. They are the backbone of our long-term care system, yet their backs are breaking from a lack of support,” said Nancy A. LeaMond, AARP Executive vice president and Chief Advocacy Officer in a June 29th statement announcing the kick-off of its new national grassroots campaign and also the release of its newest caregiver study, “AARP’s Caregiving Out- of-Pocket Costs Study.”

Adds AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor: “This research reflects the incredible strain and sacrifices the 136,000 family caregivers in Rhode Island face every day. They are the backbone of our long-term care system, yet their backs are breaking,” 

“AARP research shows family caregivers contribute 114 million hours each year in their vital roles, “Taylor noted.

“We hear from so many caregivers from across the state who struggle financially,” Taylor added. “It is heartbreaking to know that cost, along with stress, fatigue and other factors take their toll over time. The need for support is more than evident.”

The Cost of Caregiving

Last month, AARP released its caregiver study, putting a spotlight on the out-of-pocket costs of caregiving, taking a close look at the financial strains on family caregivers and financial sacrifices (uncompensated care) they make in providing assistance to their loved ones. The study is a five year follow up to the landmark 2016 out-of- pocket caregiving study.

According to newly released study, nearly 8 in 10 of those caring for an adult family member (78%) are facing regular out-of-pocket costs, with the highest burden falling on younger caregivers and those who are Hispanic/Latino or African American. AARP researchers tracked what caregivers pay for using their own money and found average annual spending totaled $7,242 and, on average, 26% of the caregiver’s income. Housing expenses like rent or mortgage payments, home modifications, and assisted living made up more than half of caregivers’ spending, followed by medical expenses at 17%.

Out-of-pocket spending is much greater for some groups of caregivers, either in total dollars spent or as a percentage of average household income.

The researchers say that working caregivers who reported two work-related strains from caregiving, such as taking time off or working more hours, spend $10,525 each year on average – twice as much as caregivers who report one or no work-related strains.

AARP’s caregiver study also examined how caregiving financially impact between different generations of caregivers. Gen X caregivers spent the most money at $8,502. However, Gen Z and Millennial caregivers reported the greatest financial strain (spending on average $7,462 per year), spending a larger share of their household income. These caregivers have less time in the workforce to build financial security.

The AARP study found that Hispanic/Latino and African American caregivers also reported greater financial strain than White or Asian American caregivers. Hispanic/Latino caregivers spent on average, 47% of their household income on caregiving, and expenses for African American caregivers totaled, on average, 34% of income.

Researchers also found that caregivers caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease/dementia or mental health issues tend to spend more ($8,978 per year and $8,384 per year, respectively) than those caring for someone without those conditions.

Work-related or personal strain as a result of caregiving can impact the caregiver’s long term financial security, too, say the researchers.  Nearly 47% of caregivers have experienced at least one setback as a result of being a caregiver. These setbacks include dipping into personal savings, cutting back on their own spending, and reducing how much they save for their retirement years.

More than 53% have experienced at least one work-related impact as the result of caregiving. Taking time off (both paid or unpaid) and working different hours are ways that caregiving impacts work. 

In addition to direct out-of-pocket spending, caregivers are also experiencing indirect financial setbacks. Nearly half of family caregivers (47%) experienced at least one financial setback such as having to cut back on their own health care spending, dip into their personal savings or reduce how much they save for their retirement.

Send your letters to Congress urging passage of the bipartisan Credit for Caring Act.  With an aging society and the number of caregivers increasing, a $5,000 nonrefundable federal tax credit for eligible working family caregivers might just help to pay the mounting costs of caregiving expenses. 

For more details about AARP’s caregiver study, go to:  https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/ltc/2021/family-caregivers-cost-survey-2021.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00473.001.pdf.

More resources for family caregivers, including a free financial workbook, are available at aarp.org/caregiving.

Seniors with student loans: AARP’s new online tool to manage debt

Published in RINewsToday on April 5, 2021

Over the years, AARP Public Policy Institute (PPI) has tracked the staggering amount of student loan debt that seniors are shouldering to help their children and grandchildren finance their higher education. Many people age 50 also take on student loan debt themselves, seeking more education at colleges and universities to sharpen up their skills to get a raise or a higher paying job.  

AARP national CEO, Ann Jenkins, in a July 3, 2019 blog posting, “Student Loan Debt is Crippling too Many Families,” urged Congress and state legislatures to increase public investment in colleges and universities. “The cost of attending a four-year college more than doubled, even after adjusting for inflation, as state and local funding for higher education per student has decreased,” she said, noting that family incomes haven’t come close to matching that increase.” 

Jenkins warned that the rising cost of student loan debt is “crippling too many families” and “threatens to crush the financial security of millions of Americans over age 50.” According to a PPI report, released May 2019, entitled “The Student Loan Debt Threat: An Intergenerational Problem,” cited by Jenkins in her blog article, Americans of all ages owed $1.5 trillion dollars in student loan debt as of Dec. 2018. Compare this to people ages 50 and older who owed 20 percent of this debt, or $289.5 billion of that total, up from $47.3 billion in 2004, she said, noting “that’s a fivefold increase since 2004.”

Most troubling, this 2019 PPI analysis, found that 25 percent of private student loan cosigners age 50 and older had to make a loan payment because the student borrower failed to do so.

The 2019 PPI analysis findings also indicated the obvious – that is, taking on student loan debt  can quickly deplete a senior’s retirement egg nest. The data revealed that many older student loan borrowers racked up debt by running a balance on a credit card (34 percent) and taking out a Parent PLUS loan, federal money borrowed by parents (26 percent). Other types of borrowing included taking out a home equity loan (12 percent), refinancing of their homes (10 percent), and taking out a loan against their retirement savings (8 percent).

Jenkins also noted that for seniors who defaulted in paying their monthly student loan payments, the federal government can recoup this money by taking a number of steps to collect, among them taking a portion of federal or state income tax refunds, withholding a percentage of Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or even garnishing some of the borrower’s wages.

Today, America’s seniors are still feeling the overwhelming financial weight of having to pay off student loan debt.  

Updated Student Loan Data Released 

Last week, AARP’s PPI released a new report updating data on older student loan borrowers. Like its 2019 analysis, the newly released data in the report, “Rising Student Loan Debt Continues to Burden Older Borrowers”, revealed that student loan debt is still a staggering problem across generations: Americans 50 and older held $336.1 billion, or 22 percent, of the $1.6 trillion in student loan debt in 2020. In 2004, older borrowers accounted for 10 percent of the $455.2 billion student loan debt.

“Student loan debt is becoming a burden for all generations, ensnaring more older adults and delaying or battering the retirement plans for many,” said Gary Koenig, AARP Vice President, Financial Security, in an AARP statement released on March 31, 2021. “Paying for higher education was never meant to last a lifetime.

That is why AARP is helping individuals take charge of their debt and financial security,” he said.

AARP’s newly released PPI analysis found that millions of borrowers – including as many as seven million individuals ages 50-plus – have had their payment suspension extended through September due to the pandemic. However, around a fifth of student loan debt – more than $300 billion – is not included in the current suspension.

Managing Your Student Loan Debt

To help individuals manage their student debt, AARP and Savi unveiled last week a new student loan repayment tool to help individuals identify the best payment options, with special features for the 50-plus population. The Savi Student Loan Repayment Tool provides a free, personalized assessment of student loan repayment options. It can also help individuals identify loan forgiveness opportunities based on employment, and assistance in preparing and filing paperwork.

“We’ve seen the generational impact of student loan debt, and we’re excited to work with AARP in helping older borrowers access immediate and long-term relief,” said Tobin Van Ostern, co-founder of Savi. “This is about changing the narrative and providing freedom from the burdens of student debt to those who need it most,” he notes.

“This new AARP resource provides a means for Rhode Islanders to form a clearer picture of student loan repayment that could help many clear up uncertainties and avoid potential additional costs,” said AARP Stated Director Kathleen Connell. “I urge older Rhode Islanders to get the Information they need, especially those whose retirement savings might be impacted.” 

Any adult with student loans may use the on-line tool at no cost, after registering at AARP.org/studentloans. AARP worked with Savi to customize the tool for older borrowers and includes: Options for dozens of national and state repayment and forgiveness programs; synchronized federal and private loans across all loan servicers easily with industry standard security; support from student loan experts; and access to free educational resources.

According to AARP’s statement announcing the new online tool, the Washington, DC – based aging advocacy group has worked with Savi to provide this resource to low-income older adults at no cost through the AARP Foundation. As older adults are the largest growing age group of student loan borrowers, AARP, and Savi are committed to helping them access the tools they need to begin tackling their student loan debt.

AARP’s statement makes it very clear that its collaboration with Savi does not involve or promote student loan refinancing of any.