File folder labeled COVID-19 relief fund

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While senior living providers await Phase 4 Provider Relief Fund distributions, senior living advocates are calling for targeted funding to help an industry still battling pandemic operational and occupancy challenges.

Argentum President and CEO James Balda noted that it has been a year since the last round of relief, and since then, expenses and losses incurred by senior living providers have only compounded, pushing more communities into “jeopardy.”

“They simply cannot afford to wait any longer, and that’s why we urge the administration to use its discretion to direct relief to these frontline caregivers who have been left behind time and again,” Balda told McKnight’s Senior Living.

Argentum sent a letter on Monday imploring the administration to use its discretion to direct relief to “frontline caregivers who have been left behind time and again.”

In the letter, Argentum asked the Biden administration to consider the “disparity in relief received to date” as well as the continued challenges assisted living providers face. The association noted that assisted living providers have received less than 0.4% of distributions from the Provider Relief Fund to date.

“Specifically, we are asking that [the Department of Health and Human Services] and [its Health Resources and Services Administration] recognize the critical care being provided to Medicare beneficiaries in assisted living as part of the discretionary bonus payments intended to help providers serving this population,” Balda wrote in the letter. “The forthcoming relief from the PRF is essential to keeping assisted living facilities open and serving this vulnerable population. The seniors in these communities — the places they call home — need to have assurances that help is on the way.”

Balda said that 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, and almost 70% of them will need some form of long-term care. On top of Provider Relief Fund dollars, he once again asked the administration for support to create a sustainability fund to provide a long-term solution to help these providers “weather the financial challenges posed by COVID-19 and adequately prepare for the coming long-term care needs of our nation’s sessions.”

Delayed funding

A slight adjustment in the distribution of Phase 4 Provider Relief Funds might have operators waiting a little longer for COVID-19 relief dollars, however.

An update on the HRSA site now indicates that the agency will begin making Phase 4 Provider Relief Fund and American Relief Plan Rural payments in December and will continue through January 2022. Distributions originally were going to begin in mid-November.

HRSA also stated that it would send individual notice to providers when final payments decisions have been made.

HHS announced the Phase 4 $25.5 billion in new funding in September, with $8.5 billion targeted for rural providers serving Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Another $17 billion available in Phase 4 funding was opened to a broad range of providers — including assisted living communities — that have seen pandemic-related hits to operating revenues and expenses. 

At the time, assisted living providers welcomed news of additional relief dollars but noted that it was the smallest amount made available to date during a timeframe when operators were experiencing some of the highest cases of COVID-19. 

“The bottom line is this: the pandemic is not over,” a LeadingAge spokeswoman told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Aging services providers continue to have to budget and pay for COVID-19-related expenses — from [personal protective equipment] to increased staffing costs while also facing other operational challenges, including occupancy.”