The $1 trillion coronavirus relief package of bills released Monday by Senate Republicans once again leaves senior living on the outside looking in, according to some provider groups.
The new Health, Economic Assistance, Liability, and Schools (HEALS) Act proposes another $25 billion for the Provider Relief Fund, which lawmakers previously appropriated $175 billion to through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to support families, workers and healthcare providers in the battle against COVID-19. House Democrats had proposed $100 billion for the fund through its $3 trillion HEROES Act in May.
Calling the package “woefully insufficient,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said, “This legislation treats older lives as expendable.”
Sloan said that the “conscious decision to ignore the escalating needs of older adults is a travesty.” What’s needed, she said, is ample personal protective equipment, sufficient testing supplies and rapid results, funding and support to cover pandemic-related costs, and pandemic hero pay, paid sick leave and other benefits for frontline staff.
“This package offers only a fraction of the $100 billion that will be needed to help aging services providers protect older adults, and offers no specific funds for aging services providers,” Sloan said, adding that it does not address the needs of more than 750,000 older adults in HUD federally subsidized and privately owned housing programs.
National Low Income Housing Coalition President and CEO Diane Yentel called the funding “a drop in an ocean of need among unsubsidized renters and people experiencing homelessness.”
“The stakes could not be higher during this public health crisis: Every day of inaction puts more low-income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, and others at immediate risk of losing their homes,” Yentel said. “Ensuring that everyone is stably housed during and after the COVID-19 pandemic is not only a moral imperative – it is a public health necessity.”
Yentel called on Congress to pass essential housing and homelessness protections in the HEROES Act, including a uniform, national moratorium on all evictions for nonpayment of rent during the public health emergency and at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to keep low-income renters in their homes and allow small landlord the ability to continue to maintain and operate their properties.
Although some believe the HEALS Act falls short in many areas for the senior living industry, other industry representatives say they are willing to work with both parties to improve the situation for providers and the older adults they serve.
Argentum President and CEO James Balda told McKnight’s Senior Living he was pleased to see several critical provisions for senior living included in the HEALS Act.
“Reasonable liability protections, telehealth flexibility and additional funding for PPE, testing and vaccine development would go a long way in ensuring quality care can continue to be provided across the industry,” he said. “However, the legislation does not offer adequate provisions for necessary hero pay for senior living employees, nor does it offer ample additional funding for the industry form the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund.”
Balda urged Congress to consider the “significant impact” COVID-19 has had on providers, communities, residents, staff and families.
“It is critical that the industry receives the protections and relief it needs to ensure generations of seniors to come have the freedom to choose the housing and care options that are best for them,” Balda said.
The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living told McKnight’s Senior Living it appreciates Senate Republicans recognizing that long-term care providers need assistance with testing, funding and reasonable legal protections.
“Coupled with the HEROES Act in the House, it’s encouraging and appreciated that members of Congress are committed to protecting our vulnerable residents and heroic staff members as this pandemic continues to rage on,” AHCA / NCAL stated. “The HEALS Act includes another $25 billion for the Provider Relief Fund, and we believe this fund could still be used to direct aid to assisted living providers. We look forward to working with both sides of the aisle as this next stimulus package makes its way through the legislative process.”
David S. Schless, president of the American Seniors Housing Association, said it’s not surprising that senior living is not earmarked in the additional $25 billion for the HHS Provider Relief Fund “because no one industry is expressly mentioned.” He told McKnight’s Senior Living that ASHA will continue its efforts to secure funding from the existing Provider Relief Fund for private pay senior living to help offset the “extraordinary expenses and loss associated with COVID-19.”
“If enacted, we hope to have access to additional funding for senior living given the ongoing nature of this crisis and growing financial stress this is placing in our member companies,” Schless said. “We are equally focused on ensuring that senior living providers do not face a barrage of lawsuits that stem from this pandemic and applaud the Senate Republican HEALS Act for including language that we believe will help limit frivolous lawsuits.”
Schless said ASHA will continue to advocate with both parties to ensure “that senior living is positioned to continue serving the nearly two million older adults who reside in our communities across the United States.”
In other coronavirus-related news:
- At least 49 senior living and long-term care communities across Tampa Bay, FL, received Paycheck Protection Program loans, saving 3,941 jobs. But the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging operator finances, and some communities may not survive, according to a media report. 2019 McKnight’s Women of Distinction inductee Pilar Carvajal relays the story of the pandemic’s impact on Safety Harbor Senior Living, a Florida assisted living and memory care facility that will close in August.
- Long-term care insurers have asked Connecticut regulators for “major” rate hikes in recent months due to mispricing of legacy policies sold years or even decades ago, according to a media report. The rising costs threaten to price out more policyholders, including some who could be facing long-term health effects from the novel coronavirus.
- Residents at the Northridge Gracious Retirement Living Center in Fishers, IN, hosted a “Senior Bikini Car Wash” during the pandemic to raise money to buy a projector and screen to watch movies in the dining hall.
- Residents of Hoosier Christian Village in Brownstown typically attend the Jackson County Fair. But when COVID-19 canceled it, the staff at the assisted living community brought the fair to the residents. The Village Fair featured frog jumps, midway games, fair eats and animal visits.
- A Roanoke, VA, retirement community asked for pen pals and was overwhelmed by the response. Our Lady of the Valley posted pictures of residents on Facebook asking for pen pals. Staff members were surprised when letters started pouring in from children and teens across the Roanoke Valley.
- Some California senior living communities and other long-term care settings are staying in lockdown despite recent state guidance permitting outdoor or window visits at a minimum. Families, doctors and advocacy groups are calling for an expansion of visitation, citing isolation that can trigger a decline in health.