Balda and Schless headshots

The National Governors Association should “strongly encourage” state governments to provide financial relief to senior living providers and caregivers for COVID-19-related expenses, Argentum President and CEO James Balda told NGA Chair Gov Cuomo (D-NY) and Vice Chair Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) on Thursday in a letter.

Additionally, governors should “immediately revise state guidance related to visitation in senior living communities,” American Seniors Housing Association President David Schless told Cuomo and Hutchinson in a separate letter.

States could provide relief to senior living, Balda said in his letter, via funding allocated to state governments through the American Rescue Plan Act that was signed Thursday by President Biden. “Unfortunately, senior living, including assisted living providers, were not addressed with any funding” in the act, he noted.

“Senior living providers collectively have incurred over $15 billion in expenses for procuring gowns, gloves, masks and other infection prevention and control supplies, hero pay, additional staff, and lost revenue due to record-low occupancy rates — losses which are long-term, compounding, and unsustainable,” Balda wrote in his letter.

Operators, meanwhile, he noted, “have not had the same access to federal relief as other providers.” Through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Provider Relief Fund, assisted living communities have received approximately $1 billion nationwide to date, Balda said, whereas skilled nursing facilities have received approximately $12.5 billion, even though each setting serves approximately 2 million people.

More than 50% of senior living providers have indicated they may have to close their senior living community due to COVID-19 financial hardship and the lack of federal financial relief,” he said. “If this happens, federal and state Medicaid budgets will catastrophically increase due to the demand for skilled nursing beds at a tremendous cost to taxpayers.”

Balda also wrote similar letters to Gov. Lujan Grisham (NM), chair of the Democratic Governors Association, and Gov. Doug Ducey (AZ), chair of the Republican Governors Association.

‘Harming those you were previously seeking to protect’

In asking Cuomo and Hutchinson to relax visitation restrictions, Schless noted federal guidance released Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allows for responsible indoor visitation “at all times and for all nursing home residents, regardless of the status of the resident, or visitor, with a few specified limitations.” 

Because senior living is regulated at the state level, the federal guidance must be acted upon by the states, he wrote.

Schless also noted that residents of independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities are expected to be fully vaccinated by the end of March.

“Research has shown that prolonged social isolation, lack of engagement, and loneliness can contribute to functional and cognitive decline, as well as depression and anxiety in older adults,” he wrote. “Given that the risk of senior living residents contracting COVID will be largely eliminated in the next few weeks due to effective resident vaccination uptake, the strict visitation restrictions will be harming those you were previously seeking to protect.”

Schless had made a similar request to the NGA on Feb. 23.

Thursday evening, Balda said Argentum also has asked the CDC to provide guidance to “open senior living communities to ensure seniors can reengage with loved ones through in-person visitation.”

Additionally, the association asked the CDC to ensure that vaccines are made available to senior living communities after the federal Long-Term Care Pharmacy Program has ended.

“Argentum applauds President Biden’s aggressive timeline to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine and will continue to work with the administration to prioritize those most vulnerable to the virus — seniors in congregate care settings,” he added after watching a speech by the president.