As Congress begins discussions around the next COVID relief bill, lawmakers must prioritize the health of long term care residents and their caregivers, according to the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL).

COVID cases continue to rise, and a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found trends in reported COVID cases among nursing home residents and staff were similar to trends in incidence of the virus in surrounding communities.

With vaccine distribution underway, providers are hopeful that they have turned a corner in their fight against the virus. However, more help is needed, the association said.

Therefore, AHCA/NCAL is urging Congress to add another $100 billion to the Provider Relief Fund, as was passed in the HEROES Act last year, and allocate $20 billion of this fund to long term care. AHCA/NCAL is also calling on Congress to ensure that long term care facilities are prioritized for other critical resources to help combat the virus, including continued testing and proper personal protective equipment.

Additional funding is critical as long term care providers have suffered significant financial hardships as a result of the pandemic. A recent AHCA/NCAL survey underscores the urgency of more funding:

• Staffing has been the top cost in response to COVID-19, with nine out of 10 nursing homes hiring additional staff and/or paying staff overtime.

• With fewer new admissions, particularly short-term rehabilitation patients, the growing number of empty beds has fueled financial losses.

• Ninety percent of nursing homes are currently operating at a loss, and two-thirds of nursing home providers say they will not be able to sustain operations for another year at the current cost.

• Assisted living communities face similar financial challenges after receiving minimal federal aid due to the pandemic, with more than half operating at a loss and a similar percentage fearing their doors will close within a year without further assistance.

“Long term care facilities have been at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. In spite of the heroic work of dedicated caregivers across the country, nursing home, assisted living, and other long term care residents account for nearly 40 percent of COVID-related deaths in the United States, while comprising only 6 percent of total cases,” AHCA/NCAL said.

The group added that nursing homes and assisted living providers continue to work around the clock to stop the spread of the virus, but without additional support, providers could face the same hardships they did earlier last year. “Congress must work swiftly and diligently to pass additional relief funding in order to protect our most vulnerable citizens and our frontline heroes,” AHCA/NCAL said.