Assisted living communities in Virginia will receive $20 million from the state to support their responses to COVID-19, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Friday. The state also has begun naming facilities where cases and deaths among residents and staff members due to COVID-19 have occurred, he said.

The amount almost doubles state funding to assisted living communities “in recognition that these facilities are also experiencing additional costs and have not had the federal support that nursing facilities have received,” the governor’s office said. State associations representing operators, however, say that more funding will be needed.

The governor’s news was part of a larger announcement of a total of $246 million to support long-term care facilities across the state — also including licensed nursing homes, certified skilled nursing facilities and certified nursing facilities — in their efforts to address staffing shortages, increase infection control measures, purchase personal protective equipment and comply with new testing requirements.

More than $56 million of the total is meant to cover periodic testing of nursing home residents and staff, which the facilities will be required to conduct in order to reopen under state and federal guidelines. Virginia has not announced guidelines for the reopening of assisted living communities yet.

“The lockdowns of long-term care facilities to protect residents and staff from the spread of COVID-19 have been hard on residents and their families,” Northam said in the announcement. “These actions will help support long-term care facilities as they ease those restrictions, while keeping their residents safe and ensuring that the public gets accurate information on the spread of this virus in these facilities.”

The funding also includes $152 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Provider Relief Fund that long-term care facilities have received for COVID-related expenses. “While assisted living facilities have not benefited from this fund thus far, there is a growing recognition on Capitol Hill that these facilities should receive federal funding to offset their costs,” the governor’s office said.

Virginia Health Care Association–Virginia Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Keith Hare said the organization appreciates the state’s recognition of the financial needs of assisted living communities and nursing facilities as they try to prevent future outbreaks.

“As Virginia moves forward with reopening, continued state and federal funding is going to be critical to ensure the safety of residents and care providers at Virginia’s nursing and assisted living facilities, which are already struggling to absorb skyrocketing costs that have come with dealing with COVID-19,” he said.

Testing all 30,106 residents and 12,544 staff members of the 564 assisted living communities in Virginia one time would cost $6.4 million, according to an estimate recently released by the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, of which VHCA–VCAL is a state affiliate.

Judy M. Hackler, executive director of the Virginia Assisted Living Association, told McKnight’s Senior Living that VALA is “pleased the Commonwealth of Virginia has recognized the importance of supporting assisted living communities as they continue to care for residents considered among the most vulnerable for COVID-19.” 

Providers, she added, have experienced “significant” increases in costs for infection control supplies and procedures as well as PPE for staff and residents. Additionally, Hackler said, communities incurred costs due to increased staffing and payments to staff to permit more individualized care of residents while social distancing, and they have purchased additional technology to enable residents to communicate with their loved ones remotely.

“Virginia has provided some support to assisted living communities with PPE and testing supplies, but there has not been any financial assistance from the state for the other areas of increased expenses,” she said. “We welcome the governor’s announcement authorizing federal CARES Act funding to support Virginia’s assisted living providers, and we hope the commonwealth will provide additional financial support to assisted living providers if available.”

LeadingAge Virginia President and CEO Melissa Andrews also told McKnight’s Senior Living that the organization appreciated Northam’s support. Assisted living providers, she said, “have been on the front lines with no financial relief during this pandemic.”

LeadingAge Virginia is grateful for the additional nursing home payments as well, she said. “Unfortunately, there are still non-certified providers who have to comply with the Department of Health’s guidance without financial support,” Andrews said. “We would like to see all providers of long-term care, including adult day providers, receive the support they desperately need to serve our residents.”

Individual facilities named

Northam also announced Friday that, given the changing nature of the pandemic in the state, he directed the Virginia Department of Health to release the names of individual assisted living communities and nursing homes that have seen COVID-19 outbreaks among residents and staff members.   

“VDH has previously released aggregate data about outbreaks in long-term care facilities, given their responsibility to protect patient and facility anonymity under the Code of Virginia,” the governor’s office said. “However, due to the widespread nature of this pandemic, it is now unlikely that releasing facility information would compromise anonymity or discourage facilities from participating in a public health investigation.” The state also is releasing the information on cases and deaths in nursing homes because recently released data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has been “inconsistent, creating public confusion,” the office added.

As of Friday, 1,122 COVID-19 cases and 109 deaths among assisted living community staff members and residents had been reported, but the totals do not include communities where fewer than five cases or deaths have been reported, “to preserve anonymity.” Additional cases and deaths have occurred at facilities offering multiple levels of care and at nursing homes, according to the data.

VHCA–VCAL’s Hare noted that assisted living facilities and nursing homes have been reporting information about their COVID-19 cases to numerous state agencies since the onset of the pandemic.

“This information shows what we have known for months, which is that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts seniors with chronic conditions and the dedicated staff who care for them,” he said. “We know that full transparency and real-time, accurate data being made available will validate our calls for assistance that nursing homes and assisted living centers have been making since the beginning of this pandemic.”

The majority of residents and patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have made full recoveries, according to VHCA–VCAL.

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