Argentum CEO: ‘Pain Still There’ in Senior Living Despite Dwindling Odds of More Federal Relief

Argentum President and CEO James Balda is still optimistic about the industry’s future — but in the short-term, he sees many hurdles left to clear.

Educating lawmakers, confronting the senior living workforce shortage and grappling with occupancy and expenses are just a handful of the challenges left for industry stakeholders to solve at this juncture in 2022. At the same time, Balda sees the likelihood of getting additional funding from the federal government dwindling as midterm elections that could shift the balance of power in Washington, D.C. draw closer.

“But, we’re going to keep up the fight,” he told Senior Housing News.


Underscoring — and complicating — the organization’s federal funding efforts is the level of financial pain the industry is feeling right now.

“This is one of the things where we’ve struggled with lawmakers,” Balda said. “When a community is in financial trouble, you’ll see a transaction or you’ll see the owner bring in a new operator, but you don’t really see a whole lot of closures.”

Even so, Balda said the organization has tracked community closures in recent months, and has noted an uptick, primarily among small and single-site communities.


“Our operators have stretched about as far as they can, and the owners of the buildings have granted concessions for about as long as they can,” Balda said. “That pain is still there, and that’s why we continue to advocate for additional relief.”

Argentum has spent the last roughly half-year focusing on public policy, particularly at the federal level. The industry organization has focused much of its fire on helping industry operators get federal Covid-19 relief dollars, and thanks to those efforts, industry operators have been able to receive millions of dollars through the ongoing Provider Relief Fund.

Still, Balda said the industry is “woefully behind” others with regard to federal assistance that other industries have received. The problem as he sees it is twofold: many lawmakers seem to think senior living communities are nursing homes that already received funding, or that they are “golf course retirement communities” unworthy of it.

“There was an education deficit,” Balda said. “One individual in the administration shared, well, you’re where people go when they don’t want to cut their grass.”

Given that shortfall in education, Balda believes the industry has much more work to do in enlightening legislators on who the industry serves and why it could benefit from more federal assistance.

“We need to have every elected official touring communities when they’re back in their district,” Balda said. “That’s a political engagement that our industry has to get much more effective at.”

Argentum achieves some of these aims already through its Argentum Advocates effort, which gives operators the tools and support they need to reach their local elected officials.

Balda also sees a need for the industry to do a better job of educating consumers about senior living communities — a problem exacerbated by the fact that “certain elements of our sector are needs-based, and oftentimes people don’t want to think about those needs until they’re staring them in the face.”

Short of industry ad campaigns funded by checkoff programs a la “Got Milk?” or “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner,” the industry will have to continue its current efforts to grow visibility. Balda pointed to the American Seniors Housing Association’s “Where You Live Matters” campaign and A Place for Mom’s general education efforts as two ways the industry is currently doing that.

And the senior living industry needs to step up its efforts to regain trust among more older adults and their families, he said.

“They’re going to be thinking about Covid, and not really understand the pains we took to keep people safe throughout the crisis,” Balda said. “We always need to keep trust at the forefront.”

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