Tying the room together

Tying the room together
© courtesy of christopher boesen

Lobbyist Christopher Boesen has been busy securing coronavirus relief for nursing homes, but the pandemic has forced him to take a break from his “Big Lebowski” persona.

“I look like the Dude, I can’t help it,” Boesen told The Hill in a recent interview, referring to Jeff Bridges’s character in the 1998 film.

Boesen is the founder and president of Tiber Creek Associates of Capitol Hill, which represents several hundred long-term care facilities through clients who finance and invest in them. Nursing homes quickly emerged as COVID-19 hot spots, with more than 25,000 resident deaths and 60,000 infections across the country by this month.

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The facilities have faced skyrocketing medical and sanitation costs — including supplying increased personal protective equipment (PPE) to nurses and doctors — while also struggling to bring in more residents as people fear entering such facilities during the pandemic or forgo hospital procedures that would require in-facility care.

The Dude can’t abide that.

If a long-term care facility can’t pay their mortgage payment, they make a claim to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

Boesen was director of the Federal Office of Insured Health Care Facilities within the FHA under former President George W. Bush. He stayed through the 2004 election and then launched Tiber Creek Associates, experience that gives him a keen awareness of his clients’ current needs amid the global health crisis.

Nursing facilities received nearly $4.9 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act signed into law in March. The Department of Health and Human Services started distributing those funds in late May, with each skilled-nursing facility set to receive $50,000, plus a distribution of $2,500 per bed.

Nursing homes need more help though, according to Boesen.

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The facilities have been buying massive amounts of PPE and, in some cases, spending more to retain staff. If a staff member takes off work because they are sick or concerned about getting sick, facilities can call a traveling nurse service, which comes at a greater expense.

“You have to do anything possible to maintain staff. You have to provide care. If that means you pay twice, you pay twice. Also getting overtime, creating bonuses. Staff costs are really high right now,” he said.

More than 400 members of nursing home staff have died from the coronavirus as of June, and 34,000 have been infected.

Boesen said restructuring current aid programs could help the facilities out.

“There’s an existing loan program that long-term health care facilities can use for extraordinary expenses during construction, so we’re trying to change it and say we have extraordinary expenses that are COVID-related,” he said.

The program is through HUD, and Boesen said the agency has been responsive and supportive of the change.

While his work lobbying the FHA has stepped up during the coronavirus, his annual “Big Lebowski”-themed concert, which had been slated for May, was canceled amid Washington, D.C.’s social distancing restrictions.

For the concert, a 19-person band gets into character and performs the cult film’s Creedence Clearwater Revival-heavy soundtrack while the movie plays in the background and food and drinks connected to it are served.

The show has been rescheduled for September at the Pearl Street Warehouse at The Wharf, but Boesen isn’t fully convinced it will happen.

“We just don’t know if it makes any sense,” he said.

Not that he has much free time on his hands these days. Another issue of rising importance for nursing homes during the pandemic is liability protections, which Senate Republicans, the White House and the business community have been pushing for across numerous industries.

“One of the big issues of course is, who will receive protection,” he said. “Our question is who does it cover? A lot of folks say, well if it covers doctors, nurses and hospitals, are we OK? Some folks say, for assisted living, it’s not necessary.”

But Boesen argues that in cases where the facility acted responsibility and someone still contracted coronavirus, they should be protected.

“There’s no way to explain to someone suffering from Alzheimer’s that they have to maintain social distancing,” he said.

Lobbying itself has of course also changed significantly in the age of the coronavirus, and Boesen eagerly awaits a return to a more in-person Washington.

“Working with members, I like doing over the phone,” he said. “But working with staff — you can’t go to the Capitol Lounge and get a beer and say, ‘What are we going to do about this bill?’ It’s more formal and awkward now.”

He also hopes to return to rehearsing with the multiple bands he’s in, even if they can’t perform.

He is part of an eight-person ska band, Free Lobster Buffet, and this period has been the longest break from playing together they’ve had in the band’s 14 years.

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Boesen, a New Mexico native, first interned in D.C. with then-Minnesota Sen. David Durenberger (R) in 1991. He later worked for what was then the House Banking Committee, as well as the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and was executive director of the National American Indian Housing Council.

He was an appointee in 2001 for Bush’s HUD parachute team, a group of five appointees tasked with taking over the agency before Senate-confirmed officials came in.

Bush’s HUD Secretary Mel Martinez appointed Boesen to serve as policy adviser on his personal staff before he served at the FHA and then became a lobbyist 2004.

In 2014, Boesen went to a fundraiser for then-Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), but he didn’t realize before attending that its theme was “The Big Lebowski,” a movie that was already one of his favorites. And it suited him perfectly because of his resemblance to the main character.

He was inspired as a result later that year to put together the first “Big Lebowski”-themed concert, which Sinema attended.

“As I started to let my hair grow a little bit longer, I started to look like him. I definitely stand out at fundraisers, that’s for damn sure,” he said.