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Credit: coldsnowstorm

More than 4,100 healthcare providers are in line to receive collectively more than $560 million in Provider Relief Fund Phase 4 general distribution payments this week, bringing to $19 billion the total amount paid out from the fund.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through its Health Resources and Services Administration, announced the distributions on Thursday. Phase 4 payments include reimbursing a higher percentage of losses for smaller providers, as well as bonus payments for providers who service Medicaid, Medicare and Children’s Health Insurance Program beneficiaries.

It is unclear whether any senior living providers are included in the $560 million disbursement, and even if they are, the money “is not a windfall,” one industry leader said. Approximately 86% of all Phase 4 applications now have been processed, with the remaining applications continuing to be processed.

Almost $11.5 billion in Provider Relief Fund Phase 4 payments have been distributed to more than 78,000 providers across the country. This amount is in addition to HRSA’s $7.5 billion American Rescue Plan Rural payments to more than 44,000 providers since November.

Replenish the PRF

Calling the disbursement of funds from the Provider Relief Fund “inadequate,” an Argentum spokesman said that senior living operators “have time and again been left behind when it comes to COVID relief.” Despite, according to Argentum’s estimate, incurring more than $30 billion in pandemic losses and expenses, the association said that assisted living operators have received just $627 million from the Provider Relief Fund.

With more than half of senior living communities reportedly losing money, and many threatened with closure without financial relief, Argentum is supporting the Safeguarding Elderly Needs for Infrastructure and Occupational Resources (SENIOR) Act, which includes a $10 billion sustainability fund similar to the Provider Relief Fund.

“In three separate congressional letters, Congress directed the HHS secretary to target and prioritize funding for assisted living caregivers who are in desperate need of relief,” the Argentum spokesman said. “Congress should now legislatively direct the secretary to do just that with remaining funds in the PRF, unallocated COVID-19 relief, or any new relief.”

A LeadingAge spokesperson called it “welcome news” that more Phase 4 funding is making its way to aging services providers, who have “continued to accrue COVID-related costs and lost revenues as they navigate this public health crisis.” LeadingAge also said it remains hopeful that the remaining $6 billion in outstanding payments will follow soon.

In a January letter to President Biden, Leading Age stated that Phase 4 of Provider Relief Fund payments funded less than 45% of providers’ reported pandemic-related lost revenues and expenses through the first quarter of 2021 — long before the delta and omicron variants of COVID-19 surfaced. 

“Support for aging services providers in all settings is needed, as providers’ expenses for staffing, personal protective equipment and testing grow,” the LeadingAge spokesperson said.

The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living on Tuesday sent a letter to congressional leaders calling for a $20 billion replenishment of the Provider Relief Fund — asking for $10 billion each for assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities.

American Seniors Housing Association President and CEO David Schless agreed that senior living has not been treated equitably with financial support from the Provider Relief Fund. 

“While we are hopeful this latest set of payments will include those senior living providers who have yet to receive their payments, it is not a windfall,” Schless told McKnight’s Senior Living, adding that ASHA members were eligible and applied for funding back in October. “These companies continue to experience lost revenue, increased operating costs and significant labor expenses, which underscore not only the need to get these funds out swiftly, but the need for additional funds.”

ASHA has been engaging with legislators during its “virtual fly-in” throughout February to help move the senior living industry toward recovery. Schless and Argentum President and CEO James Balda also co-authored a letter on Feb. 17 to congressional leaders asking for the Provider Relief Fund to be replenished with targeted support to assisted living communities. They also called for immigration policies to ease caregiver shortages.

“We are calling on Congress to recognize the heroic efforts of this industry to keep seniors and staff safe, and to grant them equitable relief to ensure they can recover from this pandemic,” Schless said Thursday. “Given the limited funds remaining in the PRF, the best way to ensure senior living can be fairly treated is to replenish the PRF as part of the upcoming spending package.”