Argentum President & CEO James Balda hedshot

Argentum President and CEO James Balda (Photo by Lois A. Bowers)

A senior living advocacy campaign with messages that may be familiar to many on Capitol Hill is about to reach higher and wider — to the White House, state policymakers and the front yards of senior living communities across the country.

Argentum officially launches its “Mr. President, Don’t Leave Us Behind, Again” campaign today, as President Biden and members of Congress negotiate changes to an infrastructure bill, the administration determines a methodology for disbursement of Phase 4 Provider Relief Fund money, and COVID-19 booster shots become available for older adults and healthcare workers.

“We want to make sure that the administration — the White House and President Biden in particular — recognize the needs of our industry,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda told McKnight’s Senior Living. “A lot of the work that’s been done previously has been with Capitol Hill, and we feel we’ve got good, strong support from lawmakers for what our industry needs in terms of financial and other resources but at this point really need the administration to recognize and understand the situation that we’re in.”

Campaign goals

The campaign, in part, asks Biden to target financial relief through Phase 4 of the Provider Relief Fund by factoring “the significant number of Medicare beneficiaries who receive direct care” in senior living into bonus payments intended for providers serving older adults.

It also asks the president to make investments in the long-term care workforce, such as those proposed in the Safeguarding Elderly Needs for Infrastructure and Occupational Resources (SENIOR) Act, legislation that Balda said he expects to be introduced soon. He likened the act to “PRF 2.0.”

“Recognizing that we haven’t received the support that we should have through the existing Provider Relief Fund, the Senior Act would call for an additional fund to be created specifically for senior living communities to help offset their COVID-19 losses,” Balda said. The legislation also would “make significant investments in workforce development,” the association said.

Argentum also is hoping that the workforce development programs of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration can be expanded. Senior living isn’t able to “tap into them” currently, Balda noted.

The “simplest” way to increase workforce programs for senior living, he said, would be to “leverage the definition of long-term care through the Older Americans Act and incorporate that throughout the reconciliation package.” The OAA definition of long-term care references assisted living, he added.

The campaign also asks Biden to support the administration of COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, as well as ongoing testing to mitigate the spread of the virus, in senior living communities.

“We want to make sure that the administration understands the need to make our communities a priority in terms of making boosters available and through our long-term care pharmacy partners,” Balda said. “They need to understand that our residents were among the first vaccinated and so now we are approaching the end of that window through which they suggest that you get the boosters. So anything the administration can do to make sure that our pharmacy partners are prioritized and that the clinics are ultimately scheduled in our buildings as quickly as possible would be helpful.”

Argentum estimates that 90% of senior living providers have at least one pharmacy partner and that 80% have one or more back-up pharmacy partners.

A smaller dollar request

Argentum has been advocating for $10 billion in relief from the federal government, estimating that operators have incurred approximately $30 billion in expenses and losses during the pandemic yet have received only about $1 billion, or less than 1%, of Provider Relief Fund monies that have been disbursed to date.

Now, with assisted living operators about to compete with multiple healthcare providers for $17 billion in Phase 4 Provider Relief Fund dollars, “$10 billion is highly unlikely, so we’re looking for certainly more than we’ve received to date,” Balda said.

The campaign will try to call the president’s attention to the industry directly through a letter and indirectly through actions at the state level, such as political outreach, media placements, traditional and digital advertising, and billboards and signs in front of senior living communities. Seven states are specifically targeted: Arizona, Delaware, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

“Some of it is based on where we’ve got strong support. So, for example, in Arizona, Senator Sinema [D] has been a strong supporter of ours from the very beginning in terms of trying to encourage the administration to get us the resources we need and ultimately in saving the Provider Relief Fund dollars previously, through our Save the PRF effort,” Balda said. “In other cases, we’re trying to really focus in on states that are going to be critically important for the administration on a go-forward basis, whether it’s negotiating the reconciliation package or even in upcoming elections.”

Billboard space was rented near the president’s hometown of Scranton, PA, in advance of an anticipated visit, and signage was placed near Biden’s Delaware home.

Not forgetting previous positives

But as much as the campaign is focused on drawing Biden’s attention to senior living, it also seeks to make sure that the recognition the White House already has given the industry is not forgotten by Congress, Balda said.

“We were pleased originally when the Biden administration revised their [infrastructure] proposal to include assisted living,” he said. “Originally, it was home care, and they expanded it to long-term care, including assisted living.”

Certainly, negotiations to reduce the $3.5 trillion size of the reconciliation bill could affect senior living, Balda said. “What we’re concerned about though, is the president’s desire to have assisted living included has not made its way into congressional packages yet. And so we are pushing to make sure that that happens.”

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