Large bills and Treasury relief program checks layered on American flag

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With $11 billion in Phase 4 Provider Relief Funds having gone out to 74,000 healthcare providers, including senior living providers, and $6 trillion in overall COVID-19-related aid having been spent across six relief packages, senior living advocates are continuing to press for targeted relief for the industry.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration has processed about 82% of all Phase 4 applications, HHS said Tuesday. PRF dollars are meant to cover pandemic-related costs for personnel, recruitment and retention initiatives, supplies and information technology.

HRSA confirmed there may be delays in processing Phase 4 payments, Argentum Director of Government Relations Dan Samson said during an Argentum Advocates briefing on Tuesday. The agency initially planned to distribute all payments by the end of January but is now targeting the end of the first quarter, he said.

The awards — averaging $58,000 for small providers, $289,000 for medium-sized providers and up to $1.7 million for large providers — cover only 45% of small providers’ lost revenues and coronavirus expenses, Samson said. The amount for medium-sized providers is 25%, and for larger providers it’s 20%, he added.

Argentum, Samson said, remains disappointed that targeted funding for assisted living providers has not been realized, despite having broad support from Congress. The organization, he said, is working with lawmakers and pursuing other legislative efforts “to raise the issue and ensure lawmakers and policymakers truly understand the needs of senior living providers and the fact that they’ve been continuously left behind.”

Argentum President and CEO James Balda said he is “extremely concerned and frustrated” over HRSA’s continued “inequitable relief.”

“For what is now the third year of the COVID pandemic, the frontline caregivers in senior living communities have worked 24 / 7 to protect residents from harm, and continue to do so now as the omicron variant threatens lives, especially among seniors,” Balda told McKnight’s Senior Living. “The time to fix the Biden administration’s reluctance to prioritize senior living communities for relief and support has long since passed, but we continue to seek the funds, vaccines, testing equipment and workforce assistance that is so desperately needed.”

Samson said that although there has been a dramatic shift in recent weeks on legislative efforts on Capitol Hill — namely the “political earthquake” triggered in mid-December when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced he would not support the Build Back Better Act — opportunities remain for senior living priorities to be addressed.

Lawmakers, he said, now are focused on another potential COVID-19 relief effort, after $6 trillion already has been spent across six prior packages.

Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) plan to introduce a $40 billion relief bill targeting restaurants, live entertainment venues and gyms. Samson said the money is intended for approximately 180,000 entities that were left out of previous funding efforts. The proposal, he noted, is supplemental relief to what previously was disbursed as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which already included $28 billion for restaurants and bars as part of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

“We’ve been trying to make the point that assisted living has been left behind continuously and has not received the same equitable relief,” Samson said. Any additional relief packages likely will be more narrowly tailored than the previously enacted packages, he added. 

Argentum previously proposed the Safeguarding Elderly Needs for Infrastructure and Occupational Resources (SENIOR) Act, which would address the need for financial relief and the workforce crisis. The association also continues its “Don’t Leave Us Behind…Again” campaign in an effort to continue to create awareness of the senior living industry’s important role in the overall healthcare system.

Argentum also recently sent a letter to the Biden administration seeking financial relief and new supplies of COVID-19 tests and boosters.

In other advocacy news, Argentum President and CEO James Balda also signed on to a letter sent Monday to the White House COVID-19 Response Team seeking help with anti-competitive practices with nurse staffing agencies “charging exorbitant prices to desperate health providers that simply need workers.” Other signatories include the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, LeadingAge, AMDA–the Society for Post-Acute and Long Term Care Medicine and the National Association for the Support of Long Term Care.