COVID-19 coronavirus in USA, 100 dollar money bill with Franklin in surgical face mask, macro. COVID affects global stock market.
(Credit: JNemchinova / Getty Images)

Assisted living and other long-term care providers in Pennsylvania are eligible to apply for almost $12 million in federal funding to invest in workforce and infrastructure needs to build “long-term resiliency” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has announced that it will distribute federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding to help assisted living facilities, personal care homes, skilled nursing facilities and intermediate care facilities through the Long-Term Care Quality Investment Pilot

Margie Zelenak, executive director of the Pennsylvania Assisted Living Association, told McKnight’s Senior Living that the funding provides an opportunity to expand workforce capabilities and training, as well as improve technical and physical infrastructure.

“COVID-19 caught many of our members by surprise, especially with the lack of technology,” Zelenak said. “This grant allows communities to invest in equipment to assist with communication with staff, residents and families. The upgrades to HVAC systems will improve airflow and reduce airborne health hazards.”

She added that the pilot is another way the commonwealth recognized the important role that assisted living and personal care homes provide in the continuum of care.

LeadingAge Pennsylvania President and CEO Garry Pezzano told McKnight’s Senior Living that although the funding won’t solve every challenge the long-term care field faces, “it is encouraging to see intentional investment in the resilience of this essential sector.”

“At a time when aging services providers are still reeling from the impacts of the pandemic and ongoing financial challenges, these funds will help recipients strategically invest in the future of their workforce and implement programs to further educate and develop their dedicated staff,” Pezzano said.

To qualify for funding, facilities must be enrolled in the state’s LTC RISE (Resiliency Infrastructure Supports & Empowerment) program’s quality improvement work initiative. Philadelphia facilities are not eligible for funding because the city’s Department of Health received its own funding.

A large portion of the LTC RISE work requires state teams to work with long-term care facilities on quality improvement projects focused on workforce physical and psychological safety, infection prevention and control, as well as emergency preparedness and response. Recognizing that the facilities were not receiving any funds to reinvest in those key areas, the pilot program will promote outbreak control and emergency response capabilities that promote health equity for staff and residents.

To promote workforce recruitment and retention, the pilot will pay for tuition for select certification and training programs designed to build skills of existing staff or to hire new staff. It also will provide additional funding to increase salaries of those staff members who complete certifications or approved training. Larger facilities are encouraged to hire full-time infection preventionists or emergency preparedness coordinators.

Pezzano said this effort represents a departure from traditional recruiting efforts, where providers compete for the same pool of available recruits.

“This ‘grow your own’ approach is just the kind of innovation we need,” Pezzano said.

The pilot also is funding facility upgrades and new technology to strengthen infection control capabilities, including creating better isolation spaces, increasing safe barriers, upgrading ventilation systems, adding hand washing stations and sanitizer stations in common areas, and improving internet connectivity and communication capacity.

Pennsylvania Health Care Association President and CEO Zach Shamberg told McKnight’s Senior Living that $5 million made available to long-term care facilities in the state’s 2021-2023 budget for HVAC improvements was popular, and he anticipates similar interest in this program. 

The application deadline is Dec. 31, with funds expected to be awarded in the second quarter of 2023. Facilities can receive up to $2,000 per bed, or up to $300,000 per facility, until the $11.7 million is exhausted. Half of the funds will go to skilled nursing facilities.