RI Seniors, aging advocates call for an “age friendly” budget

Published in RINewsToday on March 27, 2023

Over two months ago, Gov. Dan McKee unveiled a sweeping $13.7 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year.  After its release, the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI (SACRI), representing 21 organizations, called this budget “unfriendly to seniors,” charging that it “short-changed” seniors.  In an e-blast that was sent to 1,800 seniors and aging advocates SACRI urged them to contact their lawmakers asking that they put more funding into the delivery of aging programs and services.  

As the House Finance Committee continues to hold hearings on bills that might ultimately be rolled into the upcoming FY 2024 Budget, last week the SACRI brought 220 seniors, aging advocates and professionals in the aging network to the Warwick Crown Plaza to personally urge House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (D-Warwick) and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D-Providence, North Providence to hammer out an “age-friendly” budget.

SACRI Board Chair George Neubauer began this year’s Legislative Leaders Forum by quoting President Joe Biden’s call to Congressional lawmakers at the annual State of the Union Address to maintain Medicare and Medicaid. The President urged lawmakers to “stand up for seniors”.  Setting the stage for why this event was organized, Neubauer told the packed room: “Today, we are here to speak up for ourselves.”

Painting a Portrait of Rhode Island Seniors

“Effective advocacy includes good data and good stories,” said Maureen Maigret, a SACRI Board member and policy advisor for the group setting the stage for the speakers. She presented demographic data on the state’s graying population, discussed the increased needs of state’s aging programs and services to keep people at home, and detailed SACRI’s budget policy fixes.

“We speak up for 200,000 seniors and our numbers are growing,” says Maigret, also a former State  Representative and Director of the RI Department of Elderly Affairs. By 2030, 1 in 5 Rhode Islanders will be aged 65 and over,” she says.

While many think that seniors are a drain on the economy, they are not. According to Maigret, $3 billion dollars in Social Security benefits are pumped into the state’s economy. Twenty percent of seniors are still working and paying taxes and employers are very aware that seniors have extensive job experience skills and are usually very reliable employees.

“Additionally, seniors are part of an invisible workforce of unpaid caregivers who take care of family members and friends, also,” says Maigret, noting that AARP Rhode Island recently released a study reporting that there are 121,000 unpaid caregivers, with the value of their unpaid care estimated to be $2.1 billion dollars (just under $19 per hour).

“Seniors also contribute thousands of hours of volunteer work to their local communities, lending a helpful hand to senior centers, friendly visitor programs, Meals on Wheels, and to the Village Common of RI at four Village communities and multiple other agencies,” adds Maigret.  

“An overwhelming 70% of Rhode Island seniors want to age in place and remain in their communities,” says Maigret, noting that “after age 65, 3 out of 5 of these individuals will need some support to stay in their homes.”

SACRI survey on areas of concern for seniors

With Rhode Island’s top House and Senate leadership listening, Maigret touched on the findings of a SACRI survey that identified an array of concerns expressed by their older constituents.  Health and care issues came up on the top of this list, followed by isolation and loneliness, lack of knowledge of community support services, the need for transportation, loss of mobility, high housing costs, and lack of income.

The survey findings indicate that needed information is not reaching older adults to navigate the long term care system, says Maigret. Forty percent do not know about programs and services offered by Rhode Island’s Office of Healthy Aging (OHA) and The Point, the state’s aging and disability resource center.  She noted that the Governor’s FY 2024 budget didn’t allocate any state dollars to operate The Point, whose mission is to direct seniors to needed programs and services.

“Even with Social Security, a large number of seniors have low incomes,” says Maigret, with 50% of older households living on less than $50,000 a year, another 27% living on less than $25,000. “The cost of long-term care is staggering and unaffordable with semi-private rooms in nursing facilities going for $94,900 a year,” she pointed out. “Assisted living facilities is out of reach for many, too, costing about $54,000 a year. Bringing a home care aide 40 hours per week into a person’s home costs a whopping $56,160,” she adds.

Maigret urged Shekarchi and Ruggerio to reallocate more state dollars to home care services.  While other states, on average, spend 45% of Medicaid long-term care dollars on home care, Rhode Island only spends 22% with hundreds of seniors having to wait over 3 months to get home care services.

Maigret says that SACRI supports a legislative agenda that calls on the Rhode Island General Assembly to craft a “Better Budget for Better Care,” which will result in a permanent investment to improve the care provided to seniors.  SACRI also urges that lawmakers raise direct workers pay to $20 per hour to attract workers into home care agencies and nursing facilities. To assist seniors to access needed programs and services, $500,000 must be allocated into the House budget to better market available information and referral services offered by The Point.  

“Meanwhile, SACRI also is pushing to add five new positions at the OHA, with two being assigned to its Adult Protective Services Unit to increase increased caseloads,” says Maigret.  By allocating funding to help more lower income Medicare beneficiaries pay their Medicare Part B premiums, seniors will have more money to pay their bills.     

Telling Powerful Stories

SACRI pulled together a few “real life” stories to illustrate why Rhode Island lawmakers must craft an “Age Friendly” FY 2024 Budget.

Jeanne Gattegno, working in the elder abuse sector, shared her thoughts as to why OHA’s Adult Protective Service Unit (APSU) is underfunded.  “Elder abuse is a crime and anyone suspecting abuse must report it.  When its reported it must be investigated by the APSU,” she says.

According to Gattegno, in 2021, there were over 6,200 calls to OHA, over 1,400 calls were elder abuse complaints, and 2,800 were investigated as self-neglect. “There are five workers in the APSU. Just do the math. It’s an incredibly difficult job and it’s life and death and there are not enough people to help,” warns Gattegno.

Allyson Manning, an overworked Registered Nurse at a local nursing facility, highlighted her typical day working with two Certified Nursing Assistants to take care of 26 residents.  Due to low wages, the facility can’t fill the third CNA position to assist the other two CNAs on the shift. 

Serving as Team Leader, Manning says that there is not enough time to take care of her 26 residents.  During this shift her chief responsibility is to pass medications, perform treatments and assessments.  She often finds that her primary functions as an RN are late or difficult to carry out, due to the need to assist the CNAs with their tasks of toileting, washing, dressing and feeding residents.

“We are not attracting the people we need to these [CNA] positions.  They are low paid jobs, but it is really rewarding work but it is hard work., she says.  When hired, CNA’s are not staying long, turnover is high says Manning. While initially working full-time, she now only works two days a week.  

Giving Their Thoughts…

RI Speaker of the House, Joe Shekarchi remarked that he clearly understood the very powerful stories shared by Gattegno, Manning and others. “I didn’t need to hear those stories because I live those stories every day.  When his 97-year-old father recently fell at home and broke his pelvis, he was admitted to the Bethany House.

“I see how hard they work and the limited staff they have,” says the House Speaker, understanding the labor shortage’s impact on nursing facilities. “I see when my father hits the call button and it takes a long time [to answer] not because they are slow, but because they are doing three or four things at the same time,” he says.

“It’s important that seniors have options so they can choose what’s best for them,” says Shekarchi. “We need to provide supports for seniors to age in place and remain in their homes living independently,” he added, acknowledging that it is not always easy to do.

Shekarchi also recognized his effort with the Senate President made historic investments to require minimum staffing last year. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened because the nursing facilities are now facing labor shortages, he says. 

According to Shekarchi, last year the General Assembly also provided more funding to make home care more accessible for seniors.  Lawmakers also provided tax relief on pensions for older taxpayers and military veterans, strengthened laws to protect seniors from financial exploitation, and made it easier to apply for SNAP benefits and expanded property tax relief for seniors. He expects to continue his efforts this legislative session.

Shekarchi also reported that he has introduced a bill, supported by AARP RI, to allow zoning for constructing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in garages or basements. He called on seniors and aging organizations to support his housing bill.

The House Speaker also discussed proposed legislation by Rep. Lauren Carson (D-District 75, Newport) proposed legislation that would create a House Study Commission to coordinate Rhode Island’s programs and services for seniors, expressing the need for such a study commission.  

Like Shekarchi, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio outlined a number of legislative successes last year.  He recognized passage of Sen. Josh Miller’s legislation authoring the creation and implementation of a pharmaceutical redistribution program. Former Sen. Cindy Coyne’s legislation became law, too, lowering the age at which a victim can be considered an elder under the state’s financial exploitation law from 65 to 60.

With the state’s growing number of seniors, Senate President Ruggerio stated that senior issues are more important than ever.

“We need to do everything we can to ensure seniors and retirees can enjoy their older years with dignity and security,” he said. “Because after a lifetime of hard work and contributing to our communities… older Rhode Islanders deserve nothing less.”

“The Senior Agenda Coalition is a powerful tool in its work.  At the Statehouse we rely on your voices to help guide us as leaders,” says Ruggerio, noting “we don’t have all the answers and appreciate your input.”

To watch SACRI’s 2023 Legislative Leaders Forum, go to  https://ritv.devosvideo.com/show?video=7cd34a907d29&apg=c7e3a6c7.

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My most popular reads as an “age beat” journalist in 2022

Published in RINewsToday on January 2, 2023

 As an ‘age beat’ journalist for over 43 years, I have freelanced more than 867 stories covering aging, health care and medical issues. These authored and coauthored pieces have appeared in national, state, trade and association publications and even statewide news blogs. In 2022, my articles appeared weekly in 52 issues of RINewsToday.com. Here are the top five articles read on this state-wide blog last year.

“Aging in Place in Your Rhode Island Community,” published in the May 2, 2022 issue of RINewsToday. 

According to this article, the aging of the nation’s population continues with seniors choosing to live out their remaining years, aging in place in their communities. The article discusses the findings of a study of adults age 50 and older conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Research and the SCAN Foundation. This study confirms that a majority of older respondents would like to age in place and are confident they can access needed health care services that will allow them to stay at home for as long as possible.  

In this article, Mary Lou Moran, Director, Pawtucket Division of Senior Services at the Leon Mathieu Senior Center, who noted, “the coordination, accessibility, and connection to services and programs is critical to the successful delivery of services and is where much work needs to be done.  

 Moran stressed the importance of senior centers located in communities throughout the state that delivered needed information and assistance to seniors on accessing the needed services to age in place. Social isolation, access to transportation, food and housing insecurity, economic stability, and connectivity to services, are obstacles to enabling a person to stay in the community in their homes, says Moran.

 Maureen Maigret, policy consultant and Chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, also described state programs that assist seniors age in place in Rhode Island.

 Finally, the article gave a history of the National Village to Village Movement and its impact on Rhode Island.  It noted that The Village Common of Rhode Island (TVC), with programs in Providence, Barrington, Edgewood/Cranston, and Westerly, provides supports to keep seniors at home through the efforts of almost 200 trained and vetted volunteers.

TVC supports include transportation, running errands, home visits and telephone assurance, minor home repairs and light yard work, assistance with technology, and a virtual caregiver support program. A robust weekly calendar offers virtual events, and a monthly newsletter keeps members and guests informed.

 To read this article, go to https://rinewstoday.com/aging-in-place-in-your-rhode-island-community-herb-weiss/

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“Calls for Rhode Island to Become more “Age Friendly,” published in the Jan. 24, 2002  2022 issue of RINewsToday. 

This article gave a background of a United Nation’s initiative to create “age friendly” communities.  Over two years ago, a proposal was endorsed by the 73rd World Health Assembly. It was presented to the U.N. General Assembly Dec. 14, 2020, (Resolution 75/131), leading to the proclamation of a U.N. Decade of Healthy Aging (2021-2030).

The four-page Resolution expressed concern that, despite the predictability of population aging and its accelerating pace, the world is not sufficiently prepared to respond to the rights and needs of older people. It acknowledges that the aging of the population impacts our health systems but also many other aspects of society, including labor and financial markets and the demand for goods and services, such as education, housing, long-term care, social protection and information. It thus requires a total whole-of-society approach to make “age friendly” changes.

Maureen Maigret, policy consultant and chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, noted that many Rhode Island communities are involved to 1 degree or another in what we consider age-friendly activities. “The initiative is usually led by the local senior center and in some instances volunteer programs such as RSVP and AARP and The Village Common of RI,” she says.

 According to Maigret, over the last five years the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council Aging (LTCCC) in Community Subcommittee has adopted and continues to work to support WHO’s decadelong initiative, adding the domains of Food & Nutrition and Economic Security and Supports to Remain at Home.

Newport was the first community to join the AARP age-friendly network; Cranston, Providence and Westerly following. The state’s Office of Healthy Aging has adopted its State Plan on Aging, calling for Rhode Island to become an age-friendly state, says Maigret.

 Maigret called on Rhode Island’s cities and towns review their community’s Comprehensive Plans to see how age-friendliness is addressed. “This is what Newport did. 

To read this article, go to https://rinewstoday.com/calls-for-rhode-island-to-become-more-age-friendly-herb-weiss/

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“Bill would (Re)create a RI Department of Healthy Aging,” published in the March 21, 2022 issue of RINewsToday. 

This article described a legislative proposal on Smith Hill to transform the state’s Office of Healthy Aging (OHA) into a department making it far more visible and effective as an advocate for the state’s growing senior population.  H. 7616, introduced by Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-District 75, Newport), would expand the office in the Department of Human Services (DHS) into a full-fledged state department, expand its director’s authority, and appoint local senior centers as hubs for service delivery, with authority to bill Medicaid for transportation services.

The RI Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA) was created by law in 1977 and remained a department until 2011, when the legislature changed it to a division within the Department of Human Services (DHS). In 2019, the department was re-named the Office of Healthy Aging (OHA), shifting narratives and perceptions associated with growing older. At press time, the Office of Healthy Aging remains a division under the Department of Human Services. 

  “Restoring the OHA to a department status will strengthen its position at the budget table and elevate the importance of programs supporting older residents of our state. We hope that will make a difference,” says Bernard J. Beaudreau, Executive Director of the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island.

 .“The legislation proposed by Rep. Carson elevates the conversation about the importance of age-friendly policies that enable Rhode Islanders to choose how we live as we age,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor. “AARP Rhode Island looks forward to being part of this conversation and continuing to advocate fiercely at both the state and local levels for enhanced home and community-based supportive services, accessible and affordable housing and transportation options, and full inclusion of people of all ages and abilities in community life,” she said. 

According to Maureen Maigret, policy consultant and chair of the Aging in Community Sub-committee of Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, H 7616 is a very significant bill that will help to stimulate a long due discussion as to how the state should fund senior programs and services in light of the state’s growing age 65 and older population. This age group is projected to represent at least one in five of  the state’s residents by 2040.

 To read this article, go to 
https://rinewstoday.com/bill-would-recreate-a-ri-department-of-healthy-aging-herb-weiss/

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 “RI Candidates for Governor Spotlight Senior Issues at Forum,” published in the August 8, 2022 issue of RINewsToday. 

This article reported on a 143-minute Rhode Island Gubernatorial form where five Democratic and one Republican gave two minute responses to seven questions previously given to them by the Senior Agenda Coalitionof Rhode Island (SACRI).   These questions were intended to how these candidates if elected Governor would fix Rhode Island’s fragmented long-term care continuum and provider payment systems.

According to Bernard J. Beaudreau, Executive Director of the Providence-based SACRI about 300 seniors and aging advocates came to personally see the Gubernatorial candidates outline their position on aging issues. Multiple platforms on Facebook and YouTube were promoted by a variety of senior advocacy groups that resulted in the over 300 virtual audience. Some held “watch parties” at one or more of the 12 senior centers, with approximately 135 people participating from throughout the state.

 Maureen Maigret, chair of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s Aging in Community Subcommittee and SACRI Board Member reported that all candidates supported: “making the Office of Healthy Aging a full cabinet/department with review of sufficiency of resources; expansion of Medicare Savings Program which I have been advocating for at least 5 years and adding a state COLA to SSI payments; requiring better data on minority older adult inclusion; addressing community living, housing and transportation needs of older persons and developing and implementing a comprehensive, interdepartmental strategic Plan on Aging.

 To read this article, go to 
https://rinewstoday.com/ri-candidates-for-governor-spotlight-senior-issues-at-forum-herb-weiss/

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“Larson Pushes to Get Social Security Reform Proposal for House Vote, published in the  June 13, issue of RINewsToday. 

This article reported that the House Ways and Means Committee was preparing for a full mark-up on H.R. 5723, Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust, authored by Committee Chairman John B. Larson (D-CT) this summer.  

 Larson says that over 200 House Democrats [no Republican has yet to support the proposal], are cosponsoring H.R. 5723. Forty-two national organizations (aging, union, veterans, disability, and consumer health organizations) are calling for passage of H.R. 5723, including the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition representing hundreds of national and state aging organizations.

 According to a legislative fact sheet, H.R. 5723 both expands the program’s benefits and financially strengthens its. Here are a few provisions:

 Specifically, it would give a benefit bump for current and new Social Security beneficiaries by providing an increase for all beneficiaries (receiving retirement, disability, or dependent benefits).

The proposal would also protect Social Security beneficiaries against inflation by adopting a Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), to better reflect the costs incurred by seniors who spend a greater portion of their income on health care and other necessities.

This legislative proposal protects low-income workers by providing a new minimum benefit set at 25% above the poverty line and would be tied to wage levels to ensure that minimum benefits does not fall behind.

 It is expected that Larson will reintroduce this legislative proposal next Congress.  To read this article, go to https://herbweiss.blog/2022/06/13/larson-pushes-to-get-social-security-reform-proposal-for-house-vote/

Watching over Nursing Homes once again – time for mandated Boosters

Published on December 20, 2021 in RINewsToday

Colder weather is keeping people more indoors now, and Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas gatherings are drawing people together in groups, small and large. Like other states across the country, Rhode Island is seeing a growing transmission of the COVID-19 Delta, and now Omicron variants. Some national sources say Rhode Island’s case rate is the highest.

According to WPRI’s COVID-19 tracking page, 73.7% of Rhode Island’s population, totaling 1,097,379 are fully vaccinated, 9.2 % are partially vaccinated, and 17 % have received no vaccination at all. “But some back-of-the-envelope math based on the state’s tally of daily doses shows nearly 251,000 people have received booster shots or third doses. And earlier this week, RI Gov. McKee publicly said the number is closer to 260,000 people,” says WPRI.

Taking a Snapshot of Vaccination Rates in Rhode Island’s Facilities

Just days ago, AARP Rhode Island called for increased boosters in the state’s nursing homes after releasing its new analysis of the latest data from AARP’s Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard.  The Dashboard revealed that only 54% of nursing home residents and 19% of staff in 79 Rhode Island nursing homes have received a COVID- 19 booster.

“With holiday gatherings on the horizon, these numbers are a cause for concern for state policy makers, as more than a year and a half into the pandemic, rates of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes are rising again nationally, along with increased community spread,” says AARP Rhode Island. While case rates declined slightly compared to the same time period last month, in AARP’s dashboard, looking week to week, the number of cases increased each week during the four weeks ending November 2, notes the state’s largest aging advocacy group serving more than 132,000 members aged 50 and older.

The Rhode Island-specific AARP Nursing Home Database says that resident cases grew from a rate of 0.64 per 100 residents in mid-October to 1.19 in mid-November. Staff cases decreased slightly from a rate of 0.96 to 0.82 during this same time period. Nursing home resident deaths from coronavirus rose slightly from a rate of 0.06 in mid-October to 0.11 in mid-November.

“COVID-19 continues to infiltrate America’s nursing homes with more than 1,500 new nursing home resident deaths nationally for the third consecutive month,” said AARP’s Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor. “Increasing vaccination rates—including boosters — among nursing home residents and staff is key to protecting our loved ones and getting the pandemic under control,” she says.

“AARP calls on nursing homes, state and federal authorities, and others to increase access to and receipt of COVID-19 boosters for both nursing home staff and residents,” Taylor added.

“As new variants emerge and vaccine immunity wanes, the low number of residents and staff who have received a booster creates an unacceptable level of risk since the disease spreads so easily in these environments,” says Tayler, urging Gov. Dan McKee “to prioritize the state’s most vulnerable population and take immediate action to addresses the relatively low percentage of nursing home residents and staff who have not received COVID-19 booster shots.”

According to AARP Rhode Island, while the percentage of residents and staff who have received boosters remain low, rates of those fully vaccinated—those who have received two COVID-19 shots—continue to slowly rise as of November 21. In Rhode Island, 99.10% of nursing home staff are fully vaccinated (the highest rate of any state in the nation) and 94.10% of nursing home residents.

The number of Rhode Island facilities reporting a shortage of nurses or aides rose sharply from 34.7% to 41.7% in the four weeks ending November 21, says the advocacy group. 

Rhode Island’s high vaccination rates can be tied to Rhode Island mandating all healthcare workers be vaccinated by Oct. 1, 2021, say John E. Gage, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Care Association. When the 30 day-compliance period ended, those who were unvaccinated were banned from entering the state’s healthcare facilities, he says, noting that termination resulted from failure to follow a reasonable policy set forth by their employer in compliance with Health Department’s emergency order. 

Yet, in at least one large nursing home facility, RINewsToday has learned, staff who refused to be vaccinated were either moved to non-patient-facing positions, or already worked in those positions, and allowed to keep working. An administrator said they are still working on encouraging 100% vaccination. Residents also have the right to refuse vaccination, and masks are required for patients outside of their rooms.

Families visiting had been restricted to the lobby, and at one time received a test in the parking lot prior to being able to enter. Today they are still screened for temperature, and they must wear a mask and complete a health symptom questionnaire. After a federal regulation went into effect several weeks ago easing access for families to visit, the screening also eased up and now tests are not required.

Any patient who is positive for COVID is moved to a quarantine area until fully recovered, and regular testing for patients and staff continues.

Some nursing homes are allowing families to take their loved one’s home for a Christmas holiday and then return after being with outside family and friends.

Gage notes that Rhode Island is ranked at No. 11 of states at a booster rate among residents of 54.1% compared to a national average of 38.4%.  Staff are boosted at 19.1% (#16) compared to a national average of 15.0%.  “Remember, individuals are not eligible for a booster until six months after their second dose of the vaccine series.  This will preclude some residents and staff, he says, stressing more credit should be given to the state’s health care facilities having the highest vaccine rates among staff and the second highest vaccination rate among residents.

According to Gage, the data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Nov. 28, 2021 showed 99.38% of all workers in Rhode Island facilities are vaccinated – the highest (#1) vaccination rate for nursing homes in the country. Residents in Rhode Island nursing homes are 95.02% vaccinated – the second highest rate in the country.

To Booster or Not Booster, that is the Question

“With vaccines mandated in healthcare facilities and proof of vaccination being required to enter public places under the new Executive Order, it seems this would be a reasonable requirement for visitors to nursing homes,” says Gage, noting that this is not allowed according to the most recent guidance issued by the Centers for Med Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

As to mandating booster shots for nursing facility staff, however, Gage warns, “staffing is at a crisis level already. We cannot afford to lose more staff with another mandate,” he says.

“The first rounds of vaccines were given most commonly by third-party sources such as CVS medical staff who came into the homes, similar as they do every year for flu shots”, said one nursing home administrator to RINewsToday – “For the boosters, we did them using our own staff, and ordering our supply from the RI Department of Health.”  Boosters were advised to be given 4-5 months from original vaccination completion – yet in the nursing homes most didn’t get them until 8 to 9 months – as late as the end of October.

However, Joseph Wendelken, Rhode Island’s Department of Health’s Public Information Officer, says that CVS and Walgreens are working to make COVID-19 vaccine booster doses available to all nursing facilities,. “If any facility is looking for additional support getting residents and workers vaccinated, we can provide that support,” he says.

Wendelken notes that there is a requirement for nursing home workers to complete a primary COVID-19 vaccine series, but there is no [federal or state] requirement for booster doses. “The data are becoming clearer and clearer that – especially with the Omicron variant – booster doses are absolutely critical,” says Wendelken.

“Residents [of nursing homes and assisted living facilities] were among the first to get vaccinated so that means their immunity has waned and boosters are needed to avert significant outbreaks and deaths,” says  Maureen Maigret, former director of the R.I. Department of Elderly Affairs and chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council. “It is critical that booster shots are offered to all nursing home and assisted living residents especially now that visitation has opened up and visitors do not have to show proof of vaccination,” she says.

As of December 15th, the RI Department of Health Department shows at least 114 new cases in nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the past seven days, says Maigret. “We must  remember that over 1,700 residents died as a result of COVID in these facilities and providing booster shots is our best defense against more fatalities for this vulnerable population.”  

Even though it is not a federal policy, a growing number of state officials across the country are calling for the definition for being fully vaccinated to now include the booster shot. With Rhode Island seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases and an increase in hospitalizations due to Delta and Omicron variants spreading throughout the state, many (including this writer) express it’s time for Governor Dan McKee to now mandate booster shots for nursing facility staff.  More important, it must become a priority for the Rhode Island Health Department to make sure that every consenting nursing facility resident receives a booster, too.

President Biden is set to address the country on Tuesday, at a time to be announced. There is speculation whether the term “fully vaccinated” will now include not just the two original vaccinations but the booster as well.

The AARP Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard analyzes federally reported data in four-week periods going back to June 1, 2020. Using this data, 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.

The full Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard is available at  www.aarp.org/nursinghomedashboard. For more information on how coronavirus is impacting nursing homes and AARP’s advocacy on this issue, visit www.aarp.org/nursinghomes. Medicare.gov’s Care Compare website now offers information about vaccination rates within nursing homes and how they compare to state and national averages.

RI Nursing Homes with new cases (more than 5) in the past 14 days:

Berkshire Place, Providence – 10 to 15

Jeanne Juga Residence, Pawtucket – 5 to 9

Oak Hill Health Center, Pawtucket – 20 to 24

Pawtucket Falls Healthcare, Pawtucket – 10 to 14

Summit Commons, Providence – 5 to 9

West View Nursing, West Warwick – 10 to 14

The full Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard is available at  www.aarp.org/nursinghomedashboard. For more information on how coronavirus is impacting nursing homes and AARP’s advocacy on this issue, visit www.aarp.org/nursinghomes. Medicare.gov’s Care Compare website now offers information about vaccination rates within nursing homes and how they compare to state and national averages.