Diagnostic Testing Support for Affordable Housing Communities

Regulation | June 17, 2020 | by Juliana Bilowich

Proactive partnerships between housing providers and health departments can help keep older adults and community staff safe through the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.

COVID-19 has further highlighted the housing, health, and services needs of our older adult communities. As state and local health departments develop testing strategies to cope with COVID-19, affordable senior housing communities should be included on the list of community partners.

By working together with state and local health departments to establish mobile testing sites at housing communities, providers have an opportunity to increase much-needed access to rapid and low-cost diagnostic testing for low-income senior residents.

Barriers to Access

HUD-assisted senior affordable housing communities serve more than 1 million older adults with incomes of less than $14,000 annually, on average. Residents of federally-assisted housing are more likely than their unassisted peers to have underlying health conditions – placing them at higher risk for the effects of the virus – and many have mobility restrictions that prevent them from accessing designated testing sites.

Despite the critical need for low-income older adults to access diagnostic testing for COVID-19, independent housing communities do not have medically-trained staff to help administer COVID-19 tests to residents and cannot utilize federal housing subsidies for this purpose. Because housing providers should not and cannot administer testing for COVID-19, they rely on partnerships with community clinics or mobile testing sites similar to mobile flu shot clinics and other community wellness programs.

Proactive Partnerships

To help housing communities build partnership with state and local health departments, LeadingAge has developed a template outreach email. The template helps providers locate their health department by state, name, or zip code, and provides customizable test.

The template email asks the relevant health department to consider the affordable senior housing community as a location for mobile testing facilities or other diagnostic testing initiatives. The template also asks the health department to partner with the community to make educational and medical resources available to senior residents and property staff.

Critical Considerations

Access to testing is a critical need for communities serving older adults with low incomes. However, any testing strategy or partnership with housing providers should take into account the following factors:

  • Civil Rights - Residents need to retain the choice to accept testing that is made available to them at their housing community (i.e., it cannot be required of a resident in HUD-assisted independent housing);
  • Privacy Protections - Housing providers hosting or partnering with testing facilities need to remain HIPAA and fair housing compliant, meaning medical records, including the results of diagnostic testing, should pass directly from the medical personnel administering and evaluating the tests to the individual residents
  • Paying for testing – Per HUD guidelines, providers cannot use project funds to pay for testing for residents, meaning payment for diagnostic testing should not fall to the housing provider; testing strategies should also be mindful of the low-income status of assisted residents and make low-cost or no-cost options available;
  • Travel to testing sites – In lieu of mobile testing sites, housing providers are asked by their residents for support accessing off-site testing locations; to accomplish this, housing communities need transportation support or funding reimbursements to help at-risk older adults overcome access