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Jean LeBoutillier, a resident at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, says goodbye to her family following a much anticipated visit in August, the first time she's seen her loved ones in person since February when Covid-19 raced through the facility. The Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing home, was an early epicenter for coronavirus (Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

As 21 States Report Surge in Covid-19 and Flu Season Looms, Nursing Homes Implore Congress for Urgent Relief

"We need Congress to prioritize our vulnerable seniors and their caregivers in nursing homes and assisted living communities by passing another Covid-19 funding package before they leave town for the elections."

Lisa Newcomb

With Covid-19 infection rates reportedly surging in over 20 states across the United States, nursing home advocates on Monday urged Congress to pass a new relief package to avoid further outbreaks among vulnerable populations and avoid catastrophic closures of essential care facilities as the fall flu and cold season loom.

"Without replenishing funds for federal and state agencies, healthcare facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living communities, could find themselves less than completely prepared for the challenges of the upcoming cold and flu season, which could inevitably result in an uptick in new Covid-19 cases," Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) said in a statement Monday.

More than 204,000 Americans have died from the virus, and the United States continues to lead the world in total cases, posting more than 7.1 million. Twenty-one states reported surges in cases on Sunday.

Long-term care facilities have been particularly plagued with Covid-19 outbreaks—nearly 40% of deaths and 7% of total cases in the United States have been linked to nursing homes, according to reporting from the New York Times. As of September 16, NYT data indicates, Covid-19 has infected more than 479,000 people at some 19,000 facilities.

"With the cold and flu season adding a real complication to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic response," Parkinson said, "the need for extra testing, personal protective equipment and staffing, will need to be met in order to keep caregivers and residents safe."

The call for funding comes on the heels of a warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) Friday that global deaths from coronavirus could top two million before a vaccine is widely available. WHO officials urged diligent collective action to mitigate the spread of the virus. Rural hospital administrators also sounded alarms last week, expressing fears of facility closings as loans disbursed from a stimulus bill last spring come due. 

According to a press release from AHCA and NCAL Monday, 70% of the $175 billion in funding for healthcare providers approved by Congress in April as part of Covid-19 relief legislation has already been distributed to facilities, and the remaining funds are likely to be allocated by early October. 

While Democrats in the House passed a $3 trillion relief package known as the HEROES Act in May, Republicans in the Senate have refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Parkinson, according to the press release, is urging Congress to provide an additional $100 billion for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Provider Relief Fund, which is accessible for all healthcare providers impacted by Covid-19. A sizable portion of the fund should be dedicated to helping nursing homes and assisted living communities acquire resources associated with protecting vulnerable residents and staff from the virus, including constant testing, personal protective equipment, and staff support, he said.

"Without adequate funding and resources," Parkinson warned, "the U.S. will repeat the same mistakes made during the initial outbreak last spring and the major spike over the summer."

As the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and looming confirmation hearings for a potential replacement dominated the news cycle last week, and with revelations about President Donald Trump's tax returns coming to light Sunday night, Parkinson stressed the need for coronavirus relief to be passed before a planned Congressional recess in October.

"We need Congress to prioritize our vulnerable seniors and their caregivers in nursing homes and assisted living communities by passing another Covid-19 funding package before they leave town for the elections," he said.

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