The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), representing more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities across the country that provide care to approximately five million people each year, has called on Congress to ensure dedicated funding and priority attention is given to long-term care residents and caregivers.
The long-term care industry is requesting an additional $100 billion for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Provider Relief Fund, which is accessible for all health care providers affected by COVID-19, and that a sizeable portion of the fund be dedicated to helping nursing homes and assisted living communities cover the costs associated with protecting vulnerable residents and staff from the virus, including constant testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and staffing.
Currently, nursing homes have received approximately 4.3 percent of the $175 billion funding allocated from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund for healthcare providers. Meanwhile, assisted living communities have yet to receive any direct federal aid.
“With the recent major spikes of COVID cases in many states across the country, we are very concerned this trend will lead to a dramatic increase in cases in nursing homes and assisted living communities,” American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Mark Parkinson says. “Without adequate funding and resources, the U.S. will end up repeating the same mistakes from several months ago. We need Congress to prioritize nursing homes and assisted living communities in this upcoming legislation.”
According to a recent national survey of women voters ages 35 to 64 undertaken by AHCA/NCAL, a key voting block in the upcoming November election, 62 percent think the government did not make long-term care facilities a top priority. By nearly a five-to-one margin, these voters (71 percent) say that long-term care facilities need more support from the government.
Parkinson says PPE supply shortages and a lack of access to reliable, rapid testing is still a major issue for many nursing homes. Nearly nine in 10 (87 percent) nursing homes and assisted living communities said obtaining test results from laboratories is taking two days or longer (63 percent – two to four days, 24 percent five days or more) according to a recent survey.
Nearly 12 percent of nursing homes report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that they have less than a one-week supply of N-95 masks, and more than half of assisted living communities have less than a two-week supply of N-95 masks and gowns. N-95 masks were not included in the last FEMA shipments to nursing homes and remain difficult to acquire.
Recent research by the Harvard Medical School, Brown University’s School of Public Health and the University of Chicago showed the level of COVID-19 cases in the surrounding community was the top factor in outbreaks in nursing homes.
AHCA/NCAL recently sent a letter to the National Governors Association (NGA), warning states of imminent outbreaks at nursing homes and assisted living facilities given the major spikes in new cases in several states across the U.S., combined with serious PPE shortages and significant delays in getting testing results for long term care residents and caregivers.
“Given the fact we are several months into the response of this pandemic and the lack of PPE supplies is still an issue is very concerning. We request governors and state public health agencies to help secure and direct more PPE supplies to nursing homes and assisted living communities,” Parkinson wrote in the letter.
As part of their funding request to Congress, the long-term care industry is requesting a $5 billion fund — to which labs and nursing homes or assisted living communities may apply to cover the costs of any testing ordered by a governmental entity. At present, it is not clear who is covering the cost of surveillance testing and how much needs to be done, especially for staff. AHCA/NCAL says funding for testing should be available until an effective vaccine is fully deployed.
AHCA/NCAL also requested Congress to direct the CDC to ensure that nursing home and assisted living residents and staff are the first and highest priority for vaccine distribution, since they are the most vulnerable and at risk.
A full list of the long term care industry’s request for Congress in the next stimulus package can be found at ahcancal.org.