Argentum Calls for Immediate $5B in Senior Living Relief, More Covid-19 Testing Options

The need for more relief grows daily, as the U.S. grapples with a new surge of positive coronavirus cases with little end in sight, and industry groups and leading providers stress that without it they may not be able to stay in business for much longer, let alone keep their vulnerable populations safe.

“What we are hoping to see is some type of targeted direct relief to assisted living, continuing care [retirement communities] and memory [care] facilities,” Argentum Senior Vice President, Public Affairs Maggie Elehwany said Thursday during a virtual briefing with congressional staffers.

Providers also need greater access to testing, particularly polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, New Perspective Senior Living President Chris Hyatt said during the briefing.

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More financial support needed

Argentum sent a letter Wednesday to the Senate Appropriations Committee calling for $5 billion to be earmarked for the industry’s immediate needs, in a final appropriations bill being put together before the December 11 holiday recess.

“Urgent appropriation dollars are needed to combat the significant increase in Covid-19 spread and to keep vulnerable senior populations safe,” Argentum President & CEO James Balda wrote.

Argentum estimates that senior living and care providers have incurred more than $11 billion in upfront Covid-19 related expenses — mainly from acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and staffing. Providers have experienced an estimated $15 billion in lost occupancy revenues, as well. And while private-pay providers have been able to apply for provider relief funds from the CARES Act since September, senior living still lags behind skilled nursing and acute care in total relief received.

Many providers that applied for provider relief are still waiting to receive those funds. Argentum estimates that less than half of providers that applied have received funds so far. Without additional, immediate funding, 40% of Argentum’s operators anticipate closures on the horizon.

“We have two million of the most vulnerable individuals and caregivers that are providing this relief, and almost 50% of them are waiting on their first round,” Elehwany said Thursday. “These losses are unsustainable.”

‘Swift’ access to PCR tests required

The briefing also served as a continued call for more varied Covid-19 testing and testing support.

Assisted living providers have received shipments of Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But molecular-based PCR testing is a more reliable, inexpensive and effective way to test for Covid-19, New Perspective’s Hyatt stressed.

Having ease of access to PCR testing will allow providers to combat outbreaks in their communities better, and prove to residents, their families and staff that the industry is going above and beyond to maintain safe living and working conditions, he argued.

“If we want to truly protect the vulnerable that we serve, we need to move swiftly to that type of testing,” he said.

He is not the only senior living leader to call for expanded testing support.

A survey released earlier this month by LeadingAge revealed that, while 66% of respondents have received the Abbot rapid antigen tests, only 37% are using them. Respondents cited a variety of reasons including that PCR testing is more reliable and they have PCR protocols already in place; awkward reporting requirements for using the Abbot tests; other point-of-care testing supplies being used first; and having only received the tests recently.

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