stethoscope draped over piggy bank

A concerted effort by the senior living and care industry may have “stopped the freight train” from running off with Provider Relief Fund dollars intended to help providers cover COVID-related expenses and losses.

During an Argentum Advocates briefing on Wednesday, Argentum Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Maggie Elehwany said the senior living association received “intelligence” that the bulk of the Provider Relief Funds would not be used to pay for the $953 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill as had been rumored. Various parties involved in the negotiations indicated that an agreement had been reached on the package on Wednesday, with a vote expected in the coming days.

Elehwany said there was “strong political will and push” from legislators and the executive branch to strike a deal on the infrastructure bill. But concern in the industry grew when a report from the Government Accounting Office indicated that the Provider Relief Fund contained almost $44 billion in untapped funds, which some viewed as an option to pay for the infrastructure bill.

The news had several senior living groups sounding the alarm that the infrastructure agreement might come at their expense.

“Once that political will moves, it really is like a freight train moving and gaining more momentum as time goes by,” Elehwany said. Argentum, along with the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, American Seniors Housing Association and LeadingAge, launched campaigns in an effort to protect those dollars. The industry groups made clear that the money sitting in the Health Resources & Services Administration account should not be considered available, because senior living and care providers were waiting for awarded —  but undistributed — funding.

“We are cautiously optimistic. We believe the Provider Relief Fund — at least the bulk of it —  will be preserved and will not be used as a ‘pay-for,’ ” Elehwany said. “We really feel that Senate negotiators really did hear our concerns.”

Elehwany said that senior living advocates shared their serious concerns about “providers hanging on by their fingernails” and COVID-19 operating losses versus relief funding actually received. And although the news appears to be good, she added, providers and the industry “must remain vigilant” and keep the pressure on Congress.

“Even if we are able to win this battle, we still need to put pressure and get this money out the door,” Elehwany said. “If we’ve learned anything these past few days watching the Olympics, nothing is a done deal. Things can happen at the last minute, and we can’t be assured of a ‘gold medal’ by any means.”

Vaccine mandate developments

In other news, Argentum Vice President of Government Relations Paul Williams said it appears that President Biden is going to announce a vaccine mandate today for federal workers. Those who are not vaccinated will be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing.

The expected federal mandate follows an announcement by the Department of Veterans Affairs earlier this week of a vaccine mandate. California and New York made similar announcements this week regarding state and city workers, as well as long-term care and other healthcare workers.

Also this week, LeadingAge joined 56 other healthcare-related professional associations in publicly throwing support behind a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for long-term care and other healthcare workers. AMDA–The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine previously called for mandatory vaccination for workers. 

Those groups join a growing list of senior living companies that already have COVID-19 mandates in place.

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