AHCA/NCAL slide with Mark Parkinson and Dr. Gifford hedshots
AHCA/NCAL President & CEO Mark Parkinson and Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Gifford discuss COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.

American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Mark Parkinson said the organizations are pursuing two avenues for coronavirus relief for operators since the $1.9 trillion package expected to land on President Biden’s desk by the end of the week does not contain any funding directly for healthcare providers, more specifically for long-term care.

AHCA / NCAL, he said, is advocating that $25 billion in unallocated Provider Relief Funds continue to provide support for long-term care, especially assisted living, which has received “very little help” from the federal government so far.

Noting that the American Rescue Plan Act earmarks $200 billion for states, Parkinson said that the organization also is asking state governments to look at their Medicaid programs and provide assistance not just to long-term care providers but to all providers that have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

‘Most difficult year’

The CEO’s remarks came Tuesday during a COVID-19 update with the media.

“What a tragic year it has been — by far the most difficult year in the history of the long-term care sector,” Parkinson said. But the “nightmare may be ending,” he added. Vaccines are working.

As the long-term care industry marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Parkinson noted that more than 170,000 residents have died. But there is light at the end of the tunnel as cases and deaths dramatically decline, he said.

The CEO attributed the good news to federal and state governments’ “superb decision” to prioritize long-term care residents and staff for vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID data tracker shows as of Monday, 7 million vaccine doses have been administered in assisted living communities and nursing homes through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program. More than 4.6 million long-term care staff members and residents have received at least one vaccine dose, with more than 2.4 million receiving two doses.

AHCA / NCAL Chief Medical Officer David Gifford, M.D., called that partnership “nothing short of an amazing feat.”

But Parkinson cautioned that now is not the time to “let our guard down.”

“We must continue to encourage folks to get vaccinated, especially caregivers and staff,” Parkinson said, addressing staff hesitancy in the industry. “Public health officials must also continue to ensure that long-term care residents and staff remain the highest priority for accessing the vaccine, as the on-site clinics with CVS, Walgreens and other pharmacy partners are coming to a close.”

‘Keep the momentum going’ 

The next phase of the pandemic response, Gifford said, is to “keep that momentum going.” He called on states to keep long-term care facility residents and staff members a priority for not only vaccination, but also access to personal protective equipment, testing and staff support. 

Gifford and Parkinson also called on the CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to review their current guidance on restricting visitors and group activities.

“We continue to advocate to CMS and the CDC, who write the regulations and guidance we follow, to look at the data on the drop in cases, look at what’s going on with the vaccine, and determine when it’s safe to reopen and get back to activities,” Gifford said. “It’s necessary for the health of our residents.”

“With millions of residents and caregivers now fully protected thanks to the vaccines, residents must be able to safely re-engage in meaningful activities and be reunited with their loved ones,” Parkinson said.