Update from Senator Lela Alston

Friday June 12, 2020—Long Term Care Facilities & COVID-19 

Dear Friends,

What a week! Arizona’s COVID-19 cases have jumped 76% in just two weeks, with the most drastic increase occurring in the past week. In addition to the escalation in COVID-19 cases, Arizona communities have joined the world in protesting the murders of George Floyd and Dion Johnson; police reform, equity in our justice system and accountability are at the forefront of our communities and elected officials—and rightfully so.

Meanwhile, people in long-term care facilities (LTC) account for 70% of Arizona’s COVID-19 fatalities. Arizona is fortunate to have a strong AARP; State Director Dana Marie Kennedy and her team have been diligent in holding Governor Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health Services accountable for our 147 LTC facilities—both Medicare certified and state licensed. We need more LTC inspectors to make certain that staff and residents are safe, and that has been long in coming. Dana’s June 10th letter is just one example of the great work that our AARP does on behalf of older Arizonans, especially now.

LTC facilities are prohibiting families from visiting loved ones because the centers want to keep COVID-19 from spreading to residents and staff, it is important that LTC’s have the resources and supports needed to keep older Arizonans safe.

As coronavirus cases and deaths rise in Arizona, it is important to remember that vulnerable and older Arizonans are the ones who are most at risk. Thanks to AARP, AZ Health Care Association, AZ Agency on Aging, and the other advocacy organizations that are working to make certain that our older citizens are not neglected at this time.

Here is Dana’s latest letter to Governor Ducey.

Funding for Inspectors Letter to Governor Doug Ducey

June 10, 2020

Dear Governor Ducey:

AARP Arizona, on behalf of our over 900,000 members and all older Arizonans, looks forward to continuing to work with you to abate this pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating to the residents living in Arizona’s long-term care (LTC) facilities. Recent reports suggest that total number of deaths in facilities account for around 70% of total deaths due to COVID-19 in Arizona. Family members, staff, and especially those residing and receiving care in these facilities have borne the worst of the virus.

As a result of your action, facilities began restricting access in an effort to slow the spread. However, in doing so, Long Term Care Ombudsmen have not been allowed inside facilities to identify, investigate and resolve complaints made by or on behalf of residents in LTC facilities. Just as importantly, family members have not been able to effectively monitor the care their loved ones receive, as a result of facilities closing their doors to the public. Even before the pandemic, there was a shortage of oversight of LTC facilities given the litany of publicly reported incidents at such facilities; the COVID-19 outbreak has simply exacerbated the lack to accountability.

As Arizona begins to open up, residents and their loved ones should be assured that the state is doing everything possible to ensure that they are being treated and cared for with dignity and respect. We strongly encourage the state to take advantage of available federal funding to put more inspectors into LTC facilities. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced new resources available to states on June 1 regarding funding for inspectors:

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) provided additional funding to CMS for necessary survey and certification work related to COVID-19, of which $80 million in new resources will be available for states to increase surveys.[1]

In addition, as your Administration determines how to spend its $1.9 billion from the COVID-19 relief fund that Congress allocated to Arizona as part of the CARES Act, we urge you to consider funding to address COVID-19 in nursing homes, as well as in assisted living facilities, and other LTC facilities. This could include funding for personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, staffing, disinfection, telemedicine, communications technology and facilitation of virtual visitation with family members.

Most Arizona residents of LTC facilities live in settings other than nursing homes. For these Arizonans, this funding is imperative to secure adequate PPE. This PPE is critical to their ability to keep their residents and workforce safe and keep COVID from spreading.

Thank you for your time and attention to this issue. As always, we remain ready to help in any way that we can. If you have questions, please contact me via email at dkennedy@aarp.org or Brendon Blake at bblake@aarp.org.

Sincerely,

Dana Marie Kennedy, MSW

AZ State Director, AARP

https://local.aarp.org/news/funding-for-inspectors-letter-to-governor-doug-ducey-az-2020-06-11.html?fbclid=IwAR00TkXo_xeGgBSrEiZ4bV2XQeLi0xi1NQQBalnBC8TWoaPAHmCy15P0Pi4

 

Arizona Health Care Association

www.azhca.org

AHCA is Arizona’s largest professional LTC association and advocacy organization and represents many of our state’s LTCs. The organization is spearheaded by Dave Voepel and is a wealth of information for both the centers it represents, as well as family and friends of those living in LTCs. I encourage you to visit their website and click on the website’s Disaster Ready link for wonderful COVID-19 information for providers, family and friends, residents and staff, communities and more. AHCA is a valuable community partner that, along with AARP, has been a champion for our LTC’s during the pandemic.   https://www.disasterreadyaz.org/

Arizona AARP

https://states.aarp.org/arizona/

I cannot praise our AZ AARP enough. Their fearless advocacy for older Arizonans is inspiring—housing, Medicare, the cost of drugs, COVID-19, and LTC’s are just a few of the issues AARP champions. State Director Dana Marie Kennedy leads an exceptional staff and a large roster of volunteers. I encourage you to visit the link above to keep in touch with AARP’s activities and positions during the pandemic and beyond.

Arizona Department of Health Services

www.azdhs.gov/coronavirus This link will take you directly to the COVID-19 dashboard, which is a wealth of information. You can track COVID-19 numbers by age, zip code, counties, hospital bed occupancy, and much more.

Final Thoughts

I leave you today with a photo of two exceptional women I have had the pleasure of working with throughout the years. Linda Williamson, MSW with Terros Health and Eddie Sissons, former Chief of Staff for the AZ Senate, Housing & Behavioral Health Advocate, talented policy advisor and much more. This photo was taken at the 2019 NASW Awards reception, where I was honored with the 2019 Public Elected Official of the Year Award. Linda and Eddie are “older women,” (as am I). We serve our communities in many ways because it is who we are. We are older women and we roar.

We currently have 32,918 COVID-19 cases, an increase of 1,654 from yesterday1,114 people have died, an increase of 17 from yesterday. Governor Ducey states that Arizona will continue to open, and our medical centers assure us that there are ample hospital beds to accommodate the inevitable surge of hospitalizations.

Please remember:

  • If you are ill, stay home except to receive medical care
  • Wear a mask when you’re in public near others
  • Stay six feet away from others
  • Avoid groups larger than 10
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • We are in this together and it is the only way we will level the curve.

 I value your feedback so please continue writing me with your questions and comments.

Thank you,

Lela Alston

LD 24 State Senator

lalston@azleg.gov

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