Coronavirus newspaper headline montage
(Credit: SEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images)

The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living has asked the federal government to extend the public health emergency through the end of the year, given the emergence of new COVID-19 variants and the approach of flu season.

In a letter sent Tuesday to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson said that extending the PHE will ensure that assisted living communities and nursing homes have the flexibility and resources necessary to respond to an “ever-evolving pandemic.” 

“The prevalence of COVID-19 in the broader community has an impact on long-term care residents and staff,” Parkinson wrote, pointing to several studies finding a correlation between high community spread and facility outbreaks. “As we head into influenza season this fall, we need to ensure our healthcare infrastructure can quickly adapt, especially should a future variant elude the protection of our vaccines.”

The PHE, which began Jan. 31, 2020, was most recently renewed July 15.

Specifically, AHCA / NCAL asked that the federal government maintain pandemic-related waivers, enhanced Medicaid federal medical assistance percentages to states, and state Medicaid policy flexibilities. The groups also asked for reinstatement of the 1135 waiver on training and certifying of nurse aides to retain those who were “valuable members of the care team” during the pandemic.

“Now is not the time to let crucial supports and flexibilities necessary to combat and recover from the virus end,” the letter reads.

Parkinson also requested updated COVID-19 guidance from HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for healthcare settings, to “strike a balance” between protection from the virus and overall quality of life for residents.

Parkinson said AHCA / NCAL sent a letter last month to the CDC offering evidence-based recommendations for infection prevention and control practices that “recognize this current stage of the pandemic.” Those recommendations, he said, would bring consistency in policies and enforcement actions, adapt protocols based on local COVID-19 metrics, and balance safety with quality of life for residents and staff members.

“The need to extend the PHE and modify COVID protocols for healthcare settings are not mutually exclusive,” Parkinson wrote. “Both are necessary to ensure that our public health systems are able to adapt to this evolving pandemic.”