By Karen Barno, President and CEO, Arizona Assisted Living Federation of America
Arizona’s senior living facilities serve about 45,000 older residents, a population equal to the town of Prescott. These elderly grandparents, parents, veterans and retirees are being left behind by the Biden Administration, which has made combatting the COVID pandemic a top policy priority but has failed to deploy available federal resources to protect Arizona’s most vulnerable age group.
The truth: While our state’s senior living communities have fought hard to safeguard residents for the last 18 months, these communities need access to federal assistance ASAP. Without this vital help, many will close their doors, creating a housing crisis for seniors at the exact moment they need safe places to live.
It’s a crisis that we can and must avoid.
Assisted living caregivers have led the way since the pandemic started to protect seniors who call assisted living, memory care facilities and other senior communities home. They swiftly established new health protocols, added personal protective equipment, enhanced infection prevention and control measures and supported employees who accepted greater risk themselves with benefits like hero pay. These actions worked but came with at a substantial cost – one that has yet to be met by equivalent federal funding allocations.
Nearly two-thirds of assisted living facilities reporting no Covid-related deaths at all, highlighting the effectiveness of preventative efforts. But to make their efforts a success, Arizona senior living communities incurred nearly $750 million in expenses and lost revenue due to the related slowdown in incoming residents while facilities remained locked down. Nationwide, senior living communities have suffered nearly $30 billion in expenses and losses due to COVID.
Congress recognized that healthcare providers like assisted living communities could not sustain losses on that scale and if they went bankrupt and closed it would compound a pandemic with a senior housing crisis. In 2020, bipartisan legislation created a Provider Relief Fund and supplied it with $178 billion with the intention of offsetting these losses and ensuring senior living communities in Arizona and across the country remained open. While Congress acted swiftly, the Biden Administration has not, leaving your neighbors in memory care, assisted living, and Alzheimer’s communities behind.
As you read this, only $14 billion of the Provider Relief Fund remains undistributed despite a resurgent virus. Of the money that has been distributed, less than 1% has gone to assisted living facilities. In Arizona, our 2,135 assisted living communities have collectively received approximately $15 million in federal aid to address nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in expenses and losses.
Members of Congress from both parties have recognized that failure to distribute federal relief funds quickly and equitably is not a path out of the pandemic, but a path toward bankruptcy. Arizona’s U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema has led a bipartisan group including Senator Mark Kelly to urge the Biden Administration to act, writing: “Immediate targeted financial relief that equitably provides resources to these caregivers as other comparable long-term care providers is necessary. These resources will help offset the continued expenses for PPE, staffing, infection prevention and control, vaccine administration, and testing.” Members of Arizona’s congressional delegation have signed similar letters.
It has been discouraging to watch the Biden Administration ignore these calls for action and neglect Arizona’s senior living communities by failing to provide an equitable, targeted distribution of vital federal financial aid. The administration’s inaction means financial peril for assisted living caregivers as the Delta variant of COVID continues to impact daily life.
The more than 45,000 seniors who reside in Arizona’s assisted living facilities can’t afford continued inaction by the Biden Administration. Each day that passes without targeted provider relief to impacted communities brings them another day closer to their community closing, putting them on the street while COVID still stalks vulnerable populations. The Biden Administration should direct U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to immediately provide targeted Provider Relief Funds to healthcare providers, including assisted living caregivers, quickly and equitably and help us protect Arizona’s vulnerable senior citizens.
Mr. President, don’t leave Arizona’s seniors behind, again.