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Assisted living operators seek COVID-19 aid

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Negotiations on another coronavirus relief bill have yet to take place in Washington, D.C., but national agencies representing assisted living operators already have put in a $5 billion ask to the federal government.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living are seeking aid from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the senior living industry’s testing, personal protective equipment and staffing needs as the pandemic stretches into the summer.

Around 42,000 assisted living communities operate in the U.S., serving roughly 1 million residents, according to the AHCA and NCAL. While hospitals and other health care providers have received $175 billion in funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, direct federal financial help hasn’t reached assisted living providers, the agencies say.

Springfield area senior living operators say the help is needed.

“In residential care, we’re taking all of the same precautions for the residents there that we are in our skilled nursing facilities,” said Beverly Derrickson, chief operating officer for Citizens Memorial Health Care Foundation, which owns Butterfield Residential Care Center in Bolivar. “It has added a lot of extra costs to provide that care in that facility.”

Up and down
At Butterfield Residential Care, revenue has dipped and costs have greatly increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Derrickson said.

Revenue is down 6% for March through May, compared with the average of the prior nine months, Derrickson said, declining to disclose figures. Over the same period, medical supply costs, which include PPE, thermometers and hand sanitizers, have skyrocketed 200%. Food expenses also were up 17% over the three-month period at CMH’s lone assisted living facility.

It’s a similar situation for properties owned by Sikeston-based Americare Senior Living, said Pat Cokingtin, the company’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. The company operates six senior living communities in the Ozarks.

Cokingtin said its 25-bed Spring Ridge Assisted Living facility in Springfield, has lost $15,000 per month in occupancy fees since March 1. New prospective leads are down 23% over the same period last year, as assisted living centers aren’t allowing inside visitors.

There have been no COVID-19 cases reported at Spring Ridge or Butterfield, according to company officials.

So far this year, Spring Ridge has spent roughly $5,000 on PPE purchases, Cokingtin said, noting Americare’s tab for the supplies is $550,000 among its over 100 facilities in a five-state service area.

“We’re having to use our own test kits and they aren’t billable through insurance. We’re having to eat the cost on those,” Cokingtin said, asserting that assisted living facilities should be treated equally to skilled nursing centers, as both deal with revenue losses and cost increases brought on by the pandemic.

Advocating aid
Aside from AHCA and NCAL, senior living industry advocate Argentum is lobbying for COVID-19 aid, said Keith Sappington, executive director with the Missouri Assisted Living Association. The state association is among the membership of the Arlington, Virginia-based national organization and has been regularly receiving updates on lobbying efforts.

“We all have the same common goal, and that’s to make sure there is some sort of a financial relief from the feds for all the costs being incurred due to COVID-19,” Sappington said.

Federal lawmakers are considering a number of elements in the next coronavirus relief bill, such as health care funding, extending the $600 unemployment benefit and another round of stimulus checks. Congress is set to return from its summer recess on July 20.

“As far as their hopes, saying that it’s definitely going to pass, they haven’t said that,” Sappington said of updates he’s heard from Argentum.

“But at the same time, they’re being optimistic that some sort of a deal can be worked out.”

The Missouri Assisted Living Association has around 360 members among nearly 650 assisted living facilities in the state, Sappington said. PPE shortages are a common concern he hears from them. Some PPE suppliers require a minimum order, which is a struggle to meet for many small facilities, such as Spring Ridge.

In a June survey conducted by NCAL, 53% of the 375 assisted living facility respondents reported less than a two-week supply of N95 masks.

More than 70% are reusing PPE in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strategies to optimize supplies.

Despite PPE availability challenges, Derrickson said Butterfield’s staff remains resolute in its focus on safety through screening and testing.

“There isn’t any quick fixes, but we’re certainly going to continue to do everything focused on safety first,” she said. “We’ll just have to try and be as vigilant as we can on the financials until there might be some funding coming along our way. But we’re not going to reduce our safety efforts because of the lack of funding.”

Sappington said without federal funds coming in, financial challenges for assisted living facilities will undoubtedly continue.

“I wish I could say in a couple of months it should all be better, but that doesn’t sound like that’s going to be the case,” he said, noting all health care facilities will likely struggle until a vaccine is available.

“They’re going to have to keep fighting through this like everybody else.”

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