Whitehouse Pushes for COVID-19 Senate Proposal to Protect Residents, Employees

Published in the Pawtucket Times on March 1, 2021

As the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic approaches, U.S Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) joins Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) in introducing a legislative proposal to save lives of nursing home residents and employees and assist with vaccinations.   At press time, over 1.3 million nursing residents and workers in long-term care facilities have been infected with COVID-19 and more than 170,000 have died so far, accounting for approximately 35 percent of COVID-19 deaths nationwide.

Taking a Close Look at S.333

Last week, S.333, “The COVID-19 Nursing Home Protection Act,” was thrown into the legislative hopper.  Initially introduced last Congress, the latest version, now being considered by the Senate Finance Committee, would provide funding to give nursing homes the needed resources to keep residents and workers safe; funding would go towards providing vital infection control assistance and organizing local health and emergency workers – known as “strike” or “surge” teams – to manage COVID-19 outbreaks and care for residents.  At this time no House companion measure has been introduced.

S. 333, introduced on Feb. 22, would provide $210 million for the Secretary of HHS to contract with quality improvement organizations to provide essential infection control assistance to nursing homes. 

Moreover, the legislative proposal would also send $750 million in funding to states to implement “strike” or “surge” teams. States are using “strike” or “surge” teams to ensure a sufficient number of aides, nurses and other providers are available to care for residents. Such teams also help manage COVID-19 outbreaks within a facility, particularly as vaccinations proceed in these settings. Since August, approximately 20 percent of nursing homes have reported each week that they do not have a sufficient workforce to care for residents.”

The impact of the pandemic has been devastating to minority communities, where reports have indicated that facilities serving significant numbers of Black and Hispanic residents were twice as likely to have COVID-19 infections. S. 333 would require the HHS Secretary to collect and make public demographic data on COVID-19 cases and deaths, including information on age, race, ethnicity, and preferred language. 

Whitehouse supports President Joe Biden’s call for the implementation of strike teams in his American Rescue Plan to help address these persistent shortages as well as the collection and dissemination of data on suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths by race, ethnicity and preferred language.

Controlling COVID-19 Outbreaks in the Nation’s Nursing Homes

“Nursing home residents and staff have been through a traumatic year,” said Whitehouse who sites on the Senate Finance Committee.  “We need to prioritize vaccinating and caring for the Americans who live and work in these settings.  That means providing additional staff as needed to control outbreaks and making sure every resident and care worker who wants a vaccine can get one.,” said the Rhode Island’s junior Senator who has served since Jan. 4, 2007.

“As more than 170,000 residents and workers in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19, it is critical that Congress pass the COVID-19 Nursing Home Protection Act,” says Sen. Bob Casey, Chair of the U.S. Special Committee on Aging.

“This bill would address persistent staffing shortages in nursing homes by utilizing strike teams, promote infection control protocols and require that demographic data is collected on COVID-19 cases and deaths,” notes Casey.

Adds Casey, “The challenge this terrible virus poses are unprecedented and requires an immediate and extraordinary response. That is why my colleagues and I are advancing strategies to give states what they need – funding for ‘strike’ teams to help address staffing shortages in nursing homes and assist with vaccinations in these settings. We have an obligation to protect our most at-risk citizens.”

 “We applaud the efforts of Senator Whitehouse and his colleagues to provide funding for the protection of nursing home residents and staff,” said Scott Fraser, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Care Association, an affiliate of the Washington, DC-based American Health Care Association.  “We are especially pleased with the creation of strike teams to address the critical issue of staffing shortages during times of crisis.  This is a suggestion that RIHCA brought to Senator Whitehouse’s attention this past Spring when our homes were in critical need of additional staff due to the pandemic.  We thank him for listening and taking action,” he says.

At press time, 12 Democratic Senators join Sens. Whitehouse, Casey, Warnock, Blumenthal, and Booker, becoming cosponsors to this legislation.  They are: Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jack Reed (D-RI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI). 

A Call for Bipartisan Support

With the Senate now under Democratic control, there is a good chance that S. 333 will be considered by the Senate Finance Committee and if passed sent to the floor for consideration.   During the 116th Congressional session, the former Senate GOP Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, who often called himself the “Grim Reaper,” sent Democratic legislation to a legislative graveyard, refusing to act on Democratic legislation, even proposals with bipartisan support.

It’s time for Senate Republicans to support a Democratic proposal that protects the health and safety and the wellbeing of nursing home residents and workers in the nation’s 15,600 nursing homes. 

Partisan politics shouldn’t play a role in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to not urge his caucus to support this worthy legislative proposal.  S. 333 truly deserves bipartisan support and enactment, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Tips on Shopping for a Financial Advisor

Published in the Pawtucket Times on February 8, 2021

As a result of living in times of economic uncertainty resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, retirees are worried about how they can protect their hard-earned egg nest from the volatility of the stock market.  It is even now more important to be working with a financial planner who is watching your back and not putting their interest first.   

Just days ago, the Washington, DC-based AARP launched “AARP Interview an Advisor™,” free resource to help investors to assist investors in evaluating a financial advisor. This new financial tool enables older investors to better assess and understand the credentials of financial advisors and how they are compensated. SEC’s ‘Best Interest Fails to Put the Interests of the Investor First AARP says this online resource was created in response to a Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) 2019 ruling that stopped a long-standing federal regulation requiring financial advisors to put their clients’ interest above their own. 

AARP and other critics of the Final Rule say that it fell short of defining exactly what that term means operationally. “The regulation explicitly states that it does not mean that financial advisors provide a fiduciary standard of care. Despite its name, ‘Regulation Best Interest’ does not require that financial advisors put their client’s interest above their own financial interests,” charges AARP.  The nation’s largest aging advocacy group warns that warns that sound financial advice from Fiduciaries won’t happen without a Code of Standard that requires the best interest of the client. AARP Interview an Advisor™ guides users through process of researching potential advisors and provides them with this valuable evaluation tools to help them evaluate their financial planner.     

Last year, AARP conducted a national survey to gauge investors’ awareness and views of the SEC’s Regulation Best Interest ruling and also their understanding of the fees and expenses they pay for investment products and financial advice.  

The survey findings, detailed in the recently released 27-page report, Should Financial Advisors Put Your Interests First, indicated a need to raise the awareness of the SEC’s new regulation and its impact on investing.  It also became very clear to the study’s researchers that investors require more assistance in vetting current and/or future financial advisors to ensure that their financial advisor puts their interests first and more education is needed requiring investment fees and expenses. 

AARP’s survey of 1,577 adults ages 25 and older who have money saved in retirement savings accounts and/or other investment accounts, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago on behalf of AARP between Aug. 22, 2019 and Aug. 26, 2019 (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic), found more than 80 percent of American investors were not aware of the SEC ruling.  Upon learning about this regulatory change, four-in-five investors (83 percent) opposed the change. According to AARP’s survey findings, nearly 70 percent of investors have at least two investment accounts.

Among those having multiple accounts, 74 percent do not use the same financial institution to manage all of their accounts. The median amount that investors currently have in savings and investments ranges between $50,000 and $99,999. Additionally, 90 percent of investors either somewhat (52 percent) or completely (38 percent) trust the financial institutions or advisors who manage their investment accounts.  

Despite 68 percent of investors believing that they are somewhat (54 percent) or very (14 percent) knowledgeable about their investments, 41 percent mistakenly believe that they don’t pay any fees or expenses for their investment accounts. 

 Can You Trust Your Financial Planner? 

Yet the survey findings note that 58 percent of investors think financial advisors would choose to increase their earnings by selling their clients higher cost investment products even if similar lower cost products are available. “With millions of American families concerned about the financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic, it is crucial for them to be equipped with the best resources and information when selecting a financial advisor,” said Jean Setzfand, AARP Senior Vice President of Programming, in a Feb. 4, 2020 statement announcing the release of the new Financial Planning tool. “The new SEC regulation states that advisors must act in their client’s ‘best interest,’ but falls short of defining exactly what that term means,” she said. “

AARP Interview an Advisor™” is an online resource that provides guidance and a checklist for investors on how to assess the services and standards of financial advisors. Investors are invited to fill out a short survey that evaluates the potential advisor and compares them on a three-point scale. It also provides investors with advice on how to effectively communicate with a prospective advisor, assess their credentials and better understand how advisors are compensated.The COVID-19 pandemic has put many seniors off track in reaching their financial goal of building a big enough egg-nest to provide financial security in their later years.  Now its even more important for you to have a top-notch financial planner who has your back.

To view AARP’s Survey of retail investors about advisor-client relationships and fees, go to https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/econ/2019/retail-investor-survey-report.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00342.001.pdf.

COVID-19 and 2021: Looking into the Crystal Ball

Published in the Pawtucket Times on December 28, 2020

Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases continue to surge across the nation.  Yesterday, nearly 18,986,236 Americans have contracted COVID-19 with over 331,930 dying, says the John Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center. Projection models say that deaths may spike to over 500,000 by March 2021.

As 2021 approaches, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that 1.9 million people throughout the nation have gotten a dose of COVID-19 vaccine.  CDC also warned that a new variant COVID can be more rapidly transmissible than other circulating strains of SARS-COC-2.

Even with the dissemination of a safe and effective COVID-19 next year, many experts say that COVID-19 will around for a long time.  We are now seeing New Year predictions being made about COVID-19’s future impact on the delivery of care to seniors. The New York-based Aloe Care Health, one of the world’s most advanced voice-activated medical alert and communication service for elder care, recently brought seven experts together, to make predictions as to how COVID-19 pandemic will impact the provision of healthcare, insurtech, caregiving services and aging services in the upcoming year.  

Predictions from Health Care Experts

According to a statement released by Aloe Care Health on Dec. 22, these invited experts see a ‘Better Year Ahead.”  Here are some of their insightful predictions: 

Jay H. Sanders, M.D., CEO, The Global Telemedicine Group, member of the Aloe Care Advisory Board, observed: “The best examination room is where the patient lives, not where the doctor works. And, any variant of the following: telemedicine is to healthcare as Amazon is to shopping; as Netflix is to the movie theater, and as on-line banking is to your local bank.” 

“While 2020 turned the world upside down, it also revealed the massive gaps and deficits that exist in caregiving and senior care. I think 2021 will be the ‘Year of the Caregiver’ as companies, the senior care industry, and leading service organizations come to terms with how to best serve these underpaid and undervalued everyday heroes,” stated Amie Clark, Co-Founder and Senior Editor at the Clackamas, Oregon-based The Senior List.  

Donato Tramuto, Author, Chairman and Founder of Health eVillages, noted: “After a year highlighted by the devastating impact of COVID-19, vaccinations and other measures bring us hope to combat the virus in 2021. However, it is also important that we pay attention to the unintended consequences of COVID-19. As we safely social distance to decrease exposure risk, we must find ways to intervene and deal with the social isolation and loneliness caused by the lack of connection. I expect the next decade to bring innovations in business and healthcare to help us rebuild our community of connections and address the loneliness epidemic.” 

“Aging-in-place will continue to gain traction. Remote patient monitoring, personal emergency response technology, and other health matters will be addressed in-home. Health Insurance companies will redouble efforts to advance digital care management, using data to prevent acute health episodes. Covid19 will accelerate the digital adoption of remote patient care and communication. Masks will be required or desired in many public forums for much of 2021. Sadly, social distancing may be here to stay,” predicted Bob Hurley, Executive Advisor in Digital Health, eHealth; member of the Aloe Care Advisory Board. 

“COVID has demonstrated the power of telehealth to support health care workers, the older population and caregivers. It is amazing to see the adoption rate grow amongst all ages and the importance it addresses for the safety and independence of vulnerable populations. I expect innovative concepts to grow and expand in 2021 that will further empower providers and the population as a whole to live healthier and fulfilling lives,” anticipates Vicki Shepard, Health and Aging Expert, co-founder of Woman Business Leaders (WBL): Women Leading Healthcare 

“The last several months have given every one of us a dose of radical empathy for people who are isolated and alone. My profound hope is that this translates into better care for one another, especially older adults, in 2021 and beyond. And as our population ages overall (more than 10,000 of us reach 65 every day), I hope too that we collectively evolve beyond so many limiting, false, and often unconscious preconceptions about aging. This starts with products that are more thoughtfully, more beautifully designed, and extends right through to our everyday interactions.” Says Ray Spoljaric, CEO and Co-Founder, Aloe Care Health  

Finally, Jordan Mittler, Director and Founder of Mittler Senior Technology, adds: “In 2021, older adults will continue to rely on simple technology to interact with friends and family, as well as to function independently. Normalcy will take time to resume, and senior communities need to use home devices to function in society. Online shopping, online healthcare, online banking, and virtual communication will be major components of the lives of elders as we go into 2021.”  Jordan leads an inspiring group of teens teaching elders how to use technology to improve communication and daily activities. 

Predictions from a Rhode Island Physician

Over the months, Michael Fine, M.D., Chief Health Strategist, City of Central Falls, says that the COVID-19 pandemic made seniors to feel isolated and vulnerable. “As people get vaccinated it will let people feel more comfortable about moving around.  But January and February will be very hard month,” he warns. 

As we move into 2021, Fine predicts that “many people will think twice before moving to congregate settings of any sort, and we will live with new and burdensome precautions for a long time.”  He thinks that Rhode Island will lose some of its assisted living facilities and nursing homes due to the ongoing pandemic.  

Next year, Fine recommends that older Rhode Islanders stay close to home until they are vaccinated and use food delivery services where possible.  “The best way to cope is to use the telephone a lot and go out walking as much as possible, and to listen to lots of music and read a lot,” he says.   

“COVID-19 has changed how we live our lives.  Wearing a face mask and social distancing are the new normal. “I think we will go back to life as it was.  But it will take 3 to 5 years,” says Fine.   

Fine, who formerly served as the state’s Director of Health, has some thoughts about combating the COVID-19 surge in the Ocean State.  “My advice continues to be to shut bars and restaurants for indoor dining and to keep schools open, until we drop to below 2 new cases/100,000 population per day.  Everyone who works outside their homes should be tested twice a week, and every employer should make sure that’s happening, and everyone positive should be isolated for 10 days, and all contacts go into quarantine. We need employers to take the lead on this, because government has not been able to get it done,” states Fine.

Spotlight on Government Action

“It is time we all look hard at our political leadership, which has chosen to keep factories, bars and restaurants open, at the cost of hundreds of lives and a robust economy, while the virus is spreading in our communities, hitting people of color hardest.  We need to look at ourselves and our faith communities as well, allowing this to happen instead to speaking up for the sanctity of human life,” says Fine. “Democracy depends on the consent of the governed.  We all went along.  This response represents the most fundamental kind of institutional racism, the kind that puts profit in front of the lives of people of color and the communities in which people of color live,” he adds.

“All level of government failed.  SARS-CoV-2 is a cold virus.  We remain completely unprepared for a truly dangerous virus, which is evolving somewhere around the world, and will hit elders and people of color hardest again,” warns Fine.