Estate Planning Isn’t Just For The Elderly

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The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Long Term Impact on Assisted Living Facilities and Nursing Homes

By: Anthony J. Enea, Esq.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the residents of New York’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities have felt the brunt of the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, at the time of this writing it has been reported that approximately thirty-seven (37%) percent of the deaths from COVID-19 are nursing home residents and that 42 nursing homes in New York had at least 10 COVID-19 deaths.

The impact of New York’s decision to require nursing homes to take patients with active COVID-19 for rehabilitation and care has received (and deserves) scrutiny as to its impact on the number of deaths. The elderly with pre-existing conditions have always been vulnerable to the flu and it now appears they are significantly more vulnerable to COVID-19. This vulnerability is exacerbated when the elderly are residents of nursing home and assisted living facilities.

Unfortunately, the very nature of how nursing homes and assisted living facilities are designed and operated magnifies their exposure to viral illnesses. The very reasons that have made assisted living facilities and nursing homes attractive for senior housing – the socialization aspects of the facilities (such as the dining rooms, game rooms, concerts, movies, bingo, etc.) – are their Achilles heel with respect to COVID-19. The events that bring people together in a nursing home and assisted living facility, unfortunately, can be breeding grounds for viral illnesses such as the flu and COVID-19.

Until a cure and treatment for COVID-19 is found, it will be necessary that the day-to-day operation and models used for nursing homes and assisted living facilities be significantly modified. The need for them to be vigilant about the health and hygiene of their residents as well as the cleanliness of their facilities on a year-round basis is now a matter of life and death. It is also necessary that they be better organized to handle an outbreak at their facility and how best to treat ill residents and communicate with their families about their treatment and care.

Whether or not they can and will adapt remains to be seen. I am confident they will make the attempt as their survival depends on it. Additionally, it also remains to be seen whether seniors and their families will continue to want to utilize a nursing home and/or assisted living facility for their housing needs. There are many questions that will need to be answered and many changes that will need to be implemented.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head, seniors had become more reluctant to leave their homes and had for a number of years expressed their preference to “age in place.” Residing at home and receiving home care services gained a great deal of support in the last decade. This has also been possible in part due to New York’s Medicaid Home Care program and its relatively easy accessibility and eligibility rules.

Shockingly, while this pandemic raged and devastated the residents of nursing home and assisted living facilities, the State of New York passed legislation making eligibility for Medicaid home care services more difficult. Under the new law, Medicaid Home Care applications submitted after October 1, 2020 will be subject to a thirty (30) month look back period and will be penalized for any transfer of assets (gifts) made during said thirty (30) month period. This new eligibility makes it more important than ever that seniors (particularly those that are single) and who need assistances with activities of daily living submit applications for Medicaid home care services in advance of October 1, 2020.

Advanced and proactive planning to protect one’s life savings and home from the cost of long-term care remains an urgent need for seniors. Making yourself eligible for Medicaid services is prudent planning.

Anthony J. Enea, Esq. is the managing member of Enea, Scanlan & Sirignano, LLP with offices in White Plains and Somers, NY. Mr. Enea is chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Senior Lawyers Section. He was named Best Lawyers’ 2019 Trusts and Estates “Lawyer of the Year” in White Plains and Westchester County’s Leading Elder Care Attorney at the Above the Bar Awards. Mr. Enea can be reached at 914-269-2367 or at [email protected].

Enea, Scanlan & Sirignano, LLP