It took a united group of senior living and skilled nursing advocates to prevent Congress from raiding unspent Provider Relief Fund dollars to pay for a bipartisan infrastructure bill being considered in Congress.

“We were a unified, long-term care coalition and really were able to join forces and make a presence on Capitol Hill really like never before,” Argentum Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Maggie Elehwany said Tuesday during a special Argentum Advocates briefing. “We want to take a moment to thank you.”

But the industry and its advocates need to remain vigilant as the Senate meets this week to consider amendments to the bill —  more than 150 of them had been submitted as of Tuesday morning, she said. 

Elehwany laid out the timeline for the anticipated passage of the legislation, which will be followed by the Senate taking up a vote to pass budget reconciliation. That, she said, will set the stage for a second reconciliation package.

September will be a critical time as the long-term care industry works to keep the focus on its biggest challenges —  workforce, tax provisions and relief dollars, Elehwany said. 

“We need to make sure we speak loudly during these next few months, talk about the needs we caregivers will have, how we need to grow our workforce, how we need to make sure we have the resources to maintain our workforce, and ensure we have the resources we need to mitigate the pandemic,” she said. 

The COVID-19 delta variant also is top of mind, with Argentum preparing to launch a campaign to encourage policymakers to release remaining Provider Relief Fund monies. Elehwany said the association will focus on the limited dollars that senior living providers have received to date and how crucial those dollars are, since “this fight isn’t over.”

“It’s great we were able to protect the Provider Relief Fund, but it’s no good unless we can get those dollars out the door to the frontline caregivers,” she said. “There are resources sitting with the administration, and they need to be released as soon as possible.”

The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living joined Argentum and other senior living organizations in recent weeks in calling for the Department of Health and Human Services to release the remaining Provider Relief Funds.

An AHCA / NCAL survey found that almost half of assisted living communities and more than half of nursing homes say their organizations are operating at a loss. Approximately 62% of assisted living communities and 92% of nursing homes also reported that the Provider Relief Fund helped during the pandemic. 

Workplace rules

The senior living industry also is focusing on proposed Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements for healthcare providers. The COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards for healthcare settings, announced in June, provide new workplace safety rules for assisted living communities and other healthcare settings.

The industry has asked for a six-month delay in complying with the standards, saying that providers should not be penalized during the initial enforcement period. The comment period deadline on the proposed rules is Aug. 20.

“We are working with our sister associations to speak in a unified manner of our concern on some of the content and some of the recommendations in this regulation,” Elehwany said.