headshot - AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson

The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living on Tuesday asked Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to extend the federal public health emergency related to COVID-19, citing the threat of the BA.2 variant and “the unprecedented challenges that the sector has endured as a result of the pandemic.”

The current public health emergency is set to expire April 16. Under an extension, regulatory and funding changes due to the pandemic continue.

“It is clear that we are not out of the woods yet, and extending the PHE is critical to ensure states and healthcare providers have the tools and resources necessary to respond to this ongoing, global crisis,” AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson wrote in a letter to Becerra

The public health emergency related to COVID-19 has been extended eight times since it began Jan. 31, 2020. Previous HHS Secretary Alex Azar initiated it and then renewed it three times in 2020 — on April 21, July 23 and Oct. 2 — as well as on Jan. 7, 2021. Becerra previously renewed it three times in 2021 — on April 15,  July 19 and Oct. 18 — as well as effective Jan. 16.

Renewals last 90 days, but Parkinson told Becerra that assisted living and skilled nursing providers need the public health emergency to continue through the end of 2022 “so that long-term and post-acute care providers can continue to offer the most efficient and effective care possible to our nation’s most vulnerable population.”

Testing, treatment prioritization requested

Additionally, Parkinson called for the federal government to prioritize long-term care for access to COVID-19 testing and treatments.

A “test-or-treat” initiative announced by the White House earlier this month includes the launching of a program for long-term care pharmacies to directly order antiviral medications to facilitate increased access for eligible long-term care residents who are at increased risk for developing severe COVID-19.

“Once again, we urge the administration to establish a separate process for long-term care pharmacies to order all COVID treatments directly, so that nursing homes and assisted living communities have a streamlined process for quickly accessing them,” Parkinson wrote. “Not only can these measures save precious lives, but also reduce the burden on our nation’s healthcare system by preventing unnecessary hospitalizations.”

More funding needed, too

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan also recently sent a letter, to Senate and House leaders, indicating that assisted living and other aging services providers “need additional relief to get through the public health emergency and its lasting aftereffects.” Specifically, she asked that Congress restore the $23 billion that, “according to the Congressional Research Service, was taken from the PRF for other coronavirus expenses, not for provider relief as intended.”

“Further, we request that these funds be targeted to aging services/long-term care providers,” Sloan wrote Friday.

The requests from AHCA/NCAL and LeadingAge follow a call from federal officials called for Congress to provide $22.5 billion in COVID-19-related funding without cutting other programs to pay for it.

“Our concern right now is that we are going to run out of money to provide the types of vaccines, boosters, treatments to the immunocompromised and others free of charge that will help continue to battle … the increase or the upflow … of COVID in the future,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a Monday press briefing.