US Treasury relief program checks
(Credit: Uladzimir Zuyeu / Getty Images)

The Provider Relief Fund is front and center among senior living and care organizations rallying for additional financial support and resources for the long-term care sector, which they say is in a “critical and fragile time.”

The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living on Tuesday sent a letter to congressional leadership outline specific requests to provide assisted living communities and nursing homes with resources to address ongoing pandemic challenges. 

Specifically, AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson called for a replenishment of the Provider Relief Fund with $20 billion allocated to long-term care — $10 billion each for assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities.

“Nursing homes and assisted living communities are facing the worst job losses among all healthcare professions, and the shortage is impacting seniors’ access to care,” Parkinson wrote. “While the PRF funding has been helpful, it has not been enough.”

The Phase 4 Provider Relief Fund distribution payments, the CEO wrote, were inequitable and only covered losses incurred through the first quarter of 2021. Additional aid to cover losses over the remaining three quarters of 2021, he said, is critical. 

Chronic government underfunding, coupled with workforce recruitment challenges, were exacerbated by the global crisis, forcing long-term care facilities to limit admissions or close, Parkinson said. Senior living and care operators are facing a “historic labor crisis” with workforce levels at a 15-year low and their collectively losing more than 400,000 caregivers since the beginning of the pandemic, he added.

Parkinson also encouraged the Department of Health and Human Services to extend the public health emergency through the end of this year and to maintain waivers, state Medicaid policy flexibilities and the enhanced federal medical assistance percentage to states. 

“The PHE ensures our healthcare industry, including long-term care, has the policies and resources it needs to address this ongoing pandemic,” Parkinson wrote. “Now is not the time to let crucial supports and flexibilities necessary to combat the virus end, and we hope to have support from members of Congress on this front.”

Argentum targets state funding, COVID relief

Meanwhile, during an Argentum Advocates policy update call Wednesday, members heard updates on the status of the Provider Relief Fund, a potential new COVID-19 relief package, workforce challenges and the availability of state funding.

Argentum Public Policy Manager Kyle Loeber confirmed that the Provider Relief Fund is effectively depleted of all remaining funds, with the last $17 billion in unallocated dollars shifted in January to cover the cost of COVID vaccines. 

Argentum was “deeply disappointed” that the funds were shifted, Loeber said, adding that no additional relief remains to help frontline providers with pandemic expenses accrued after the second quarter of 2021. 

Argentum, he said, is working with congressional allies to replenish the Provider Relief Fund through a new federal appropriation or to divert funds from previous relief packages to the senior living and care industry.

The organization also is supporting several legislative efforts, including:

State funding

The American Rescue Plan Act included $195.3 billion for state governments to use at their discretion, but many states have sat on funds, Loeber said. The dollars have maximum flexibility, with states encouraged to direct funding for COVID-19 mitigation efforts and to support industries hardest hit by the crisis, he said.

Some states that have used ARPA funding to provide relief to the senior living sector, including:

  • Michigan allocated $70 million for a grant program to cover pandemic costs and provide financial relief to senior living communities.
  • Minnesota allocated $3.5 million to create workforce development programs to recruit, train and deploy at least 1,000 new certified nursing assistants.
  • Montana allocated $5.5 million to create a one-time childcare scholarship program for healthcare workers, including those employed in assisted living communities.
  • New Jersey allocated $329 million to expand home- and community-based Medicaid services under the NJ FamilyCare program.
  • North Carolina allocated $87 million for personal protective equipment, testing and communication devices for long-term care residents, as well as for direct care worker wages and bonuses.