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 AHCA/NCAL Pushes for More Funding, Equipment, and Testing

The head of the nation’s largest advocacy group for skilled nursing centers and assisted living communities on Wednesday said future rounds of COVID-19-related government funding should prioritize long term care, the health care setting most impacted by the devastation of a pandemic that has claimed more than 60,000 lives in the United States in less than three months.

Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), said funding thus far has gone to all health care providers, but “future rounds of funding should be focused on where COVID is being fought, and the center of that is in skilled nursing and assisted living.”

He said the association has asked for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a specific fund for long term care like it did last for hospitals. “We are asking for a $10 billion tranche for skilled nursing facilities [SNFs]. Once we get that done, we will be talking to them about assisted living [AL],” Parkinson said.

There are currently some 4,000 buildings in the long term care space that have COVID-19 positive cases, and staffing has quickly become the biggest problem. “The reason is when you have COVID-positive residents, you also have COVID-positive staff and they need to be quarantined,” he said.

In discussing what he called “an unprecedented health crisis,” the association chief said the long term care profession “is doing everything we can with our current resources to stop the spread of this virus within our facilities.”

“Our dedicated and heroic caregivers are working around the clock to keep our residents safe. But they need help,” Parkinson said. “Our population is the most vulnerable—seniors and those with underlying health conditions—yet we have not been a priority for supplies, testing, or resources.”

He said the long term care sector has been sounding the alarm for weeks and weeks, but has been largely forgotten by the public health sector until recently. “If we are not made a priority, this situation will get worse,” Parkinson said.

“It is time for state and federal government leaders to rally around our residents and caregivers—the same way they have rallied around hospitals across the country. From Washington, D.C., to state capitals. From the private to the public sector. We must all rally around long term care residents and caregivers with a sense of urgency to stop this deadly outbreak,” he added.

The specific needs for the profession are centered on what Parkinson called the priority areas of testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, and the aforementioned funding for residents and caregivers.

“The lack of PPE has put caregivers at a serious disadvantage in protecting themselves as they care for the vulnerable population who reside in our facilities,” he said.

In that vein, Parkinson said AHCA/NCAL applauds the announcement this week by Vice President Mike Pence that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be expediting the direct shipment of PPE supplies to more than 15,000 nursing facilities across the country. “We need this protective equipment right away and for it to keep coming over the next several weeks and months,” he said.

On testing, Parkinson said this area is “perhaps our biggest challenge right now.” Even with the April 27 announcement from the Trump administration that long term care residents with symptoms are now in the high priority level for testing—which he called a “step in the right direction”—the association said more needs to be done.

“Without access to more testing, long term care facilities are at a severe disadvantage in protecting our residents. We’re hearing from long term care providers who are able to expand testing that they are finding a high number of people who are positive, but asymptomatic. So many of our residents and staff across the country could be carriers of the virus without symptoms, but contagious and at risk,” Parkinson said.

Long term care facilities, especially ones with COVID-19 cases, need to be able to test all residents and all staff because so many infected people are not exhibiting symptoms, he said.

“Without reliable access to testing of both residents and staff, it’s incredibly difficult for providers to control the spread of the infection,” he said. “We specifically need state governments to expand and prioritize testing for long term care facilities. And we need both state and federal agencies to provide the financial resources to support our testing needs.”

On funding, Parkinson said in addition to the need for HHS to dedicate a $10 billion tranche to long term care, it is important to realize long term care providers “are currently shouldering the burden of additional hero pay for our frontline caregivers, testing for staff, hiring additional workers to prevent shortages, and more—all to protect residents from COVID-19.”

“Without adequate funding and resources, long term care facilities will not be able to overcome this unprecedented health crisis and protect our residents and caregivers,” Parkinson said.

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