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 AHCA/NCAL Seeks $100 Billion More for HHS Provider COVID-19 Relief Fund

On behalf of the nation’s long term care providers, the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) on Tuesday said it is requesting an additional $100 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Provider Relief Fund as the battle against the COVID-19 virus continues unabated.

AHCA/NCAL said the fund, which is accessible for all health care providers impacted by COVID-19, should dedicate a sizable portion of its monies to help nursing facilities and assisted living communities cover the enormous costs associated with protecting vulnerable residents and staff from the virus. This includes constant testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and staffing.

Currently, nursing facilities have only received approximately 4.3 percent of the $175 billion funding allocated from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund for health care providers. Meanwhile, assisted living communities have yet to receive any direct federal aid, the association said.

“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,” said Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of AHCA/NCAL. “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 bloc in the upcoming November election, 62 percent felt that 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 so they can save lives and take care of loved ones.

Parkinson said PPE supply shortages and a lack of access to reliable, rapid testing is still a major issue for many nursing facilities.

Nearly nine in 10 (87 percent) nursing facilities and assisted living communities said obtaining test results back from the lab companies is taking two days or longer (63 percent said two to four days, 24 percent said five days or more) according to a recent survey.

Nearly 12 percent of nursing facilities report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 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 (Federal Emergency Management Agency) shipments to nursing facilities and remain difficult to acquire.

Recent independent research by Harvard Medical School, Brown University’s School of Public Health, and the University of Chicago showed the level of COVID cases in the surrounding community was the top factor in outbreaks in nursing facilities, AHCA/NCAL said.

Further, the association recently sent a letter to the National Governors Association (NGA) warning states of imminent outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities given the major spikes in new cases in several states across the United States, 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 facilities or assisted living communities can 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 said funding for testing should be available until an effective vaccine is fully deployed. The group also requested Congress to direct CDC to ensure that nursing facility 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 here.

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