In letters sent yesterday to Congressional leaders, Vice President Pence, and White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx, MD, experts at the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) reinforced the need for medical supplies, telehealth, expertise in older adult care, and a range of other priorities in response to COVID-19. As diverse as these important focal points are, they highlight a key theme that crosscuts the pandemic: Building momentum for older adult care builds momentum for us all.
"This virus affects everyone, regardless of age or any other characteristics," notes AGS CEO Nancy Lundebjerg, MPA. "By advancing supports that serve the most vulnerable, including older people, we can build better treatment and prevention for all Americans."
Across both letters, AGS leaders focused on mission-critical priorities for older adults, caregivers, and the health professionals who keep them healthy and safe. These include:
- Ensuring Access to Needed Medical Supplies: Health professionals are our first line of defense against COVID-19, and their first line of defense rests on testing kits, masks, gowns, gloves, respirators, and other supplies that make care safe and person-centered. The AGS urged the federal government to make immediate use of the Defense Protection Act and move quickly to ramp up production and distribution.
- Further Expanding Telehealth Services: Like many U.S. health professionals, geriatrics experts now must balance the importance of continued care with options that prevent the spread of disease. Telehealth (health services provided virtually using technology) remains as an invaluable tool on this front. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) already has done much to increase telehealth availability. In its letters, the AGS commended these actions and suggested other steps, including changes to ensure telehealth services like phone calls are covered at the same rate as in-person visits.
- Advancing Paid Leave and Support for Caregivers: Under current policy, most American workers remain without access to paid family leave--a key social support as more people help manage family health concerns. The AGS reiterated its long-standing belief that federal protections must empower employees to recover from serious illnesses and care for newborns, newly adopted children, or seriously ill family members. In particular, the AGS urged Congress to expand paid family, medical, and sick leave to all health professionals and direct care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis. The AGS also advised Congress to implement tax relief for clinician practices, hospitals, post-acute care facilities, skilled nursing homes, and assisted living facilities, as well as home care agencies that provide the workforce for older adults and people with disabilities. This relief would offset the expense of paid family leave for employers, allowing them to support our nurses, therapists, and direct care professionals.
- Ensuring Access to Needed Medications: More Americans than ever before rely on medication for a range of health concerns, not just COVID-19. The AGS reminded federal leaders that we cannot jeopardize access to prescriptions as an emergency looms.
- Supporting Charitable Organizations: Many older adults and other vulnerable people rely on nonprofits for food, transportation, and other important needs. The AGS advised doing all America can to help this safety net operate effectively, meet increased demands, and weather the financial implications of COVID-19. Among other priorities, the AGS suggested including charitable nonprofits in emergency loan and assistance programs comprising the more than $1 trillion stimulus package now under debate.
- Empowering Other Health Professionals: As COVID-19 continues to strain the American health system, the AGS urged CMS to utilize other experts, such as clinical pharmacists, to address workforce shortages across professions. Pharmacists can play an invaluable role with point-of-care testing, vaccination, and time-sensitive treatment.
- Expanding Geriatrics Experts: "Now more than ever, we need to provide guidance and instruction so that all health professionals--not just geriatrics experts--understand the health conditions older adults face, and how those conditions may impact COVID-19," AGS experts advised. Among opportunities for advancing age-friendly care, the AGS noted the importance of existing platforms like the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP) and the Geriatrics Academic Career Awards (GACAs). "The GWEP provides support for the current transformation of primary care, while the GACAs develop the next generation of innovators to improve care outcomes and delivery. Together, they educate the workforce we all need in times of crisis and calm," added Lundebjerg.
Would you like to support the needs of older adults, caregivers, and geriatrics experts as they address COVID-19? Visit the AGS Health in Aging Advocacy Center for suggested messages and contact information to connect with your Congressional representatives.
About the American Geriatrics Society
Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has--for more than 75 years--worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Our nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.