Assisted living providers sound the alarm over lack of COVID-19 aid

Assisted living providers sound the alarm over lack of COVID-19 aid
© istock

Senior living providers are mounting a last-ditch effort to secure pandemic aid in Democrats’ $1.75 trillion social spending bill after they were largely excluded from previous relief packages.

Industry trade group Argentum says that assisted living facilities, which care for around 2 million seniors, have lost $30 billion during the pandemic due to increased expenses and low occupancy rates compounded by staff shortages. But these operators have only received $640 million in COVID-19 relief, a sliver of the $178 billion Provider Relief Fund that has favored hospitals and nursing homes.

Argentum is pushing lawmakers to allow senior living facilities to access the reconciliation package’s massive caregiving grants and benefit from its workforce development programs. They are excluded under the current bill that House Democrats aim to pass soon. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s so incredibly frustrating,” said Maggie Elehwany, Argentum’s senior vice president of public policy. “It feels like we keep going to Capitol Hill, and everyone agrees this is an injustice, and they’ll make sure we’re included in the next bill, and the next bill … and it just doesn’t seem to happen.”

The group recently launched an ad campaign targeting President BidenJoe BidenChina eyes military base on Africa's Atlantic coast: report Biden orders flags be flown at half-staff through Dec. 9 to honor Dole Biden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package MORE and key Democratic senators in Arizona, Delaware, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. 

“Our most vulnerable citizens in assisted living centers need your help as they recover from COVID-19,” one ad tells Biden. “Don’t leave us behind, again.”

Because assisted living facilities are regulated at the state level and don’t interact much with federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid, they haven’t historically had a large presence in Washington, D.C. That’s become evident in meetings with lawmakers. 

“People literally assumed we were getting funding, but we weren’t,” Elehwany said.

Prior to the pandemic, Argentum never spent more than $200,000 on lobbying in a single year, far less than other health sector groups that routinely shell out millions, according to OpenSecrets. Argentum increased its lobbying spending to $380,000 through the first three quarters of 2021. 

The industry has some high profile allies in Sens. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaIRS data proves Trump tax cuts benefited middle, working-class Americans most Photos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Green groups spend big to promote climate policy MORE (D-Ariz.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinTrump haunts Biden vaccine mandate in courts IRS data proves Trump tax cuts benefited middle, working-class Americans most Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems press drillers over methane leaks MORE (D-W.Va.), who joined a bipartisan letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump's pre-debate COVID-19 test sparks criticism Biden unveils updated strategy to end HIV epidemic by 2030 Buttigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey MORE in August urging him to correct the uneven distribution of relief funds.

“Some provider types, such as senior care facilities, have been underrepresented in previous rounds of funding,” the senators wrote. 

The next round of relief funds, amounting to $25 billion, will be made available to senior living facilities. But they don’t expect to receive significant sums, as nearly all kinds of providers, including dentists, therapists and chiropractors, are eligible to apply for aid.

The reconciliation package, which makes massive investments in senior care, is the last chance for assisted living providers that largely missed out on $6 trillion in COVID-19 relief. President Biden previously called on Congress to provide support for senior living facilities, but the current bill doesn’t do so. 

“It just makes absolutely no sense that we’re not included in probably the biggest expenditure that Congress has ever made on allowing seniors to age where they choose to,” Elehwany said.