By Michael Schuster
The Northern Virginia Aging Network consists of staff representatives from the five Northern Virginia Agencies on Aging board members from the local Commissions on Aging, and representatives of allied organizations. The NVAN members voted to address these legislative and budget items with the Virginia General Assembly in 2023.
Now that the pandemic eviction protections are gone, tenants will have less ability to prevent themselves from being evicted. Evictions have an additional impact on older renters – they live on fixed incomes and are at greater risk of physical and mental harm when they lose their homes. Under current Virginia law, landlords only have to give a five-day notice of non-payment of rent before going to court. Extending the time to 14 days balances the needs of the landlord to obtain rent payments and of the tenant to avoid homelessness. Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker was the chief co-patron on this legislation (HB 803) in the previous General Assembly session, but it did not pass. Extending this period would not be a panacea for renters, but rather provide them more time to make alternative housing arrangements.
Under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, public bodies, both advisory and decision-making, must conduct public meetings in person. However, under Bennett-Parker’s successful legislation (HB 444), advisory commissions can hold up to two virtual meetings a year. However, we believe this does not go far enough. Virtual meetings – like those through Zoom – promote public participation and transparency. We have found that the Commission on Aging has higher attendance from both the commission members and the public when we meet virtually. This proposal would only apply to non-decision-making bodies like the Commission on Aging – not commissions or boards like the Planning and Zoning Commission or elected bodies like the School Board.
Unlike a growing number of other states, Virginia has not required guardians and conservators to undergo any training on their legal and fiduciary obligations in serving vulnerable adults. In 2021, the Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission produced a comprehensive report on “Improving Virginia’s Adult Guardian and Conservator System.” Among the report’s many reform proposals is a recommendation to require any individual named as guardian or conservator to undergo state-provided training within four months of their court appointment. The training would provide information on their responsibilities and duties, and how to complete annual guardianship reports and conservatorship accountings.
Sick leave for care workers
Direct care workers are the backbone of the long-term care system. Their pay is low – 20% of care workers live in poverty and more than 40% of them rely on some form of public assistance – and when they become sick, they are forced to work because they generally do not have paid sick leave. Virginia’s failure to address the need for paid sick leave puts both direct care workers and their clients at risk because they must frequently work while sick to support themselves. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have paid sick leave laws.
Funding options for assisted living
The largest public program for long-term care in Virginia – Medicaid – does not cover assisted living, which is expensive. Monthly costs range from around $4,000 to more than $10,000, depending on the facility and the needs of the individual. Some state Medicaid programs do cover assisted living. Virginia should as well. The Joint Commission on Health Care this year will study the affordability of assisted living. The Joint Commission is chaired by State Sen. George L. Barker.
Nursing home staffing standards
Although under federal law, nursing homes must have a registered nurse eight hours per day, a licensed nurse 24 hours per day and “sufficient staff” to meet resident needs, there is no standard to measure what defines sufficient. The Virginia regulations are similarly vague. A majority of states have gone beyond these vague requirements and have established more specific standards. Spurred by the numerous cases of COVID-19 in Virginia nursing homes, the Joint Commission on Health Care in 2021 conducted a study of nursing home staffing. It found, among other things, that 21% of nursing homes do not provide adequate staffing for direct care, disproportionately affecting low-income nursing home residents.
For more information about NVAN, the legislative breakfast on Sept. 30 with our state representatives, which is open to the public, and its other activities, visit https://www.nova region.org/353/NorthernVirginia-Aging-Network.
The writer is an NVAN member and chair of the Alexandria City Commission on Aging.