four men talking
From left: NIC President and CEO Brian Jurutka, ASHA President David Schless, Argentum President and CEO James Balda and AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson participate in a session at the NIC Fall Conference.

American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Mark Parkinson has made The Hill’s “Top Lobbyists” list since 2013. Argentum President and CEO James Balda, and LeadingAge’s Linda Couch and Joe Franco, vice president of housing policy and vice president of grassroots, respectively, may not be as familiar to list-watchers, but they are no strangers to the long-term care industry.

Couch works closely with leaders in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies and also examines federally assisted elderly housing policies. Such policies have been front and center as the Build Back Better Act and other legislation is discussed. Franco, among other duties, builds LeadingAge’s grassroots capacity; recruits, trains and mobilizes the organization’s members; and crafts messages meant to motivate people to take action. 

AHCA/NCAL pointed to Parkinson’s advocacy efforts during the pandemic, his work to ensure that long-term care facilities were given top priority when COVID-19 vaccines became available, and his working for the release of $25 billion in provider relief funding, including for assisted living providers, as the efforts behind his recognition.

But Parkinson recently said he wanted to “sing the praises” of Balda and another person familiar to those in senior living, American Seniors Housing Association President David Schless, for their efforts on behalf of their members during the pandemic.

“I want to thank David and James both, who were just really instrumental — if you’re a private-pay provider in [assisted living] or [independent living], you wouldn’t have gotten any money if it hadn’t been for these guys. And I know they’re still fighting hard to get additional,” Parkinson said recently during a session at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care Fall Conference, during which he shared the stage with Schless and Balda.

“Initially, the government said, ‘We’re not going to fund private-pay AL out of the Provider Relief Fund.’ And James and David had a real outsize role in getting them to change their mind,” Parkinson said. Balda and Schless and the organizations they lead helped educate policymakers and others about the role of assisted living in the larger healthcare system, including why providers deserved funding, and then helped devise a system to facilitate payment to assisted living operators since the federal government doesn’t maintain a list of assisted living providers similar to the list of skilled nursing providers it maintains, Parkinson pointed out.

“There was just an enormous learning curve, and that’s why I think that there was really no question because of your work that AL would be included in Phase 4,” he said to Balda and Schless.

ASHA and Argentum — and AHCA/NCAL and LeadingAge — continue to work to ensure that senior living and care providers get the relief they need. Argentum, for instance, has a “Don’t Leave Us Behind…Again” campaign that urges the Biden administration and Congress to target PRF funds to the senior living industry.

Congrats to Parkinson, Balda, Couch, Franco, Schless, LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan and everyone else working behind the scenes to try to ensure that senior living gets the recognition — and aid — it deserves. And thanks to NIC President and CEO Brian Jurutka, moderator of the aforementioned session at the NIC Fall Conference, and others at NIC for facilitating regular meetings of these leaders during the pandemic so the industry has a coordinated response. All of these efforts should benefit the industry even after the pandemic.

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