$100 bills

As senior living and care organizations double down on the federal government to distribute the remaining $44 billion in the Provider Relief Fund, a new bureau has been created to specifically manage and distribute those funds.

The Health Resources and Services Administration, under the Department of Health and Human Services, posted a notice Tuesday in the Federal Register outlining a reorganization plan. The plan includes replacing the Office of Provider Support, which was created in January, with the Provider Relief Bureau

Senior living leaders say they hope this development signals an impending release of Provider Relief Fund dollars.

“We’ve already had the opportunity to work with the newly created Division of Customer Support to assist on some provider-specific challenges to accessing funds,” a LeadingAge spokeswoman told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We also hope this signals that another round of PRF distributions is imminent, as many of our aging services providers are struggling with the weight of the costs and losses resulting from keeping the virus at bay daily while ensuring our American elders receive the support they need.”

As part of its five-week “Release the PRF” campaign, Argentum on Wednesday sent a letter to the Biden administration about the “urgent need” to release Phase 4 of the Provider Relief Funds to assisted living providers. President and CEO James Balda reiterated that less than 0.4% of Provider Relief Funds were allocated to assisted living providers, and many have not received the full amount of relief owed, or they were denied relief altogether.

“Argentum continues to impress upon the administration the urgent need for targeted and equitable provider relief, including through our ongoing campaign to ‘Release the PRF,’ ” Balda told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We appreciate the recognition in naming this more permanent Provider Relief Bureau that the need for relief has not ended, but is ongoing and will continue to compound with mounting losses and the increasing challenges posed by the delta variant.

“We will continue to work closely with HRSA and HHS officials and stress that relief simply cannot wait any longer.”

Argentum’s letter follows a Senate sign-on letter from 43 senators, along with a joint letter from Argentum, the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, the American Seniors Housing Association and LeadingAge urging the release of funds to all long-term care providers.

“Our message to the president is simple: aging services providers, who operate on narrow margins in the best of times, need relief after more than a year of shouldering historic COVID-related costs,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan told McKnight’s Senior Living. “For them, the pandemic is not over; many are weighed down by losses and ongoing expenses for [personal protective equipment], resident and staff testing, and support to retain staff. Any effort to streamline the process of distributing funds is appreciated and sorely needed.”

AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson told the Washington Post, “There’s just no good reason for the administration to be sitting on these funds.” Many assisted living communities and nursing homes are running short on money, he added, because the virus’ heavy concentration in long-term care centers early in the pandemic is still causing potential patients and residents to stay away.

“We hope the creation of the Provider Relief Bureau indicates that HHS will soon release the remaining Provider Relief Funds to healthcare providers, including long-term care facilities,” an AHCA / NCAL spokeswoman told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We have been calling on HHS for months to release the funds, and it’s time that long-term care providers receive the aid that was promised as we continue to battle COVID-19, as well as an economic and workforce crisis.”