osha concept, Occupational, Safety Health , Administration, illustration.
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As the federal government mulls a forthcoming final healthcare standard on COVID-19, one senior living advocacy group is pushing for consistent protocols that recognize the current stage of the pandemic.

The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living sent a letter Wednesday to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration arguing that protocols established at the start of the pandemic are no longer “prudent” due to less severe variants and widely available vaccines and treatments. 

A permanent standard has been in the works since a temporary one was withdrawn in December 2021. Senior living advocacy groups including AHCA/NCAL, Argentum and the American Senior Housing Association previously have expressed to OSHA their opposition to the standard, calling it “overly prescriptive.”

AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson noted in his letter to Douglas Parker, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, that many controls that OSHA is considering in its healthcare standard already exist, pointing out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance over the evolution of the pandemic.

The CDC revised its COVID-19 infection prevention and control guidance for healthcare settings in September, offering assisted living the option of following either the COVID-19 healthcare settings recommendations or the more flexible congregate care setting recommendations. The decision for each provider will come down to how a state categorizes assisted living communities, the agency said.

Senior living industry advocates welcomed the revised guidance at the time, saying that it provided more flexibility for providers to respond to whatever the current local conditions are.

The earlier guidance indicated that, in general, long-term care settings, including assisted living, where staff members provide non-skilled personal care should follow community prevention strategies based on COVID-19 community transmission levels, similar to what independent living and other non-healthcare congregate settings do.

“For OSHA to develop standards that contradict or go beyond any existing standards would exacerbate the morass of federal and state regulatory confusion currently faced by our members and pull staff time away from residents,” Parkinson wrote Wednesday.

He added that earlier controls meant to protect staff and residents from infection negatively affected quality of life and working conditions. New standards, he argued, would exacerbate access issues for older adults seeking long-term care as well as compound historic workforce and financial challenges facing senior living and care providers.

“At this stage, we must focus on interventions, such as vaccines, treatments and testing, that reduce spread and protect lives while allowing long-term care residents to live in safe, happy and homelike environment,” Parkinson wrote. “All these areas are already addressed in CDC guidance.”

NCAL Executive Director LaShuan Bethea and AHCA / NCAL Senior Vice President of Government Relations Clif Porter previously submitted comments to the agency calling for consistency among regulatory agencies. 

Argentum President and CEO James Balda testified at an OSHA hearing last spring on the proposed standard and submitted comments arguing that assisted living communities should be exempt from COVID-19 healthcare standard requirements.

Wednesday, a representative from Argentum reiterated to McKnight’s “[a]ssisted living should not be considered a healthcare setting, because it is the home of these senior residents,” the representative said.
ASHA and LeadingAge also submitted written comments on the proposed final COVID-19 healthcare rule. ASHA told McKnight’s Senior Living that it will be “refreshing” the comments it submitted in April.


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