Op-Ed: Continued support needed for long-term care facilities

FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR, REPS. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER AND ROB WITTMAN

With millions of Americans experiencing pain and suffering caused by COVID-19, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to combat a once-in-a-century health and economic crisis, one that has threatened the lives and livelihoods of millions across Virginia.

In addition to small business owners, hourly workers and farmers, it’s evident that our health care industry is still in critical need of financial support.

Long-term care providers are working tirelessly to halt the spread of this disease by following strict infection control measures to keep residents safe. They provide patients with holistic care—caring for patients with multiple underlying health conditions and assisting patients with day-to-day activities.

This approach is contributing to recoveries, including many patients who are recovering from the virus without hospitalizations.

As COVID-19 remains a threat for the foreseeable future, the response at our long-term care facilities will be central in protecting and healing Virginians. They are currently caring for significantly more confirmed coronavirus cases than other types of health care facilities, with just a fraction of the resources.

The average age of a nursing home resident in Virginia is 79; approximately 50 percent of assisted living residents in the state are older than 85. The more than 90,000 Virginia residents cared for in Virginia’s long-term care facilities annually—many of whom are also living with one or more underlying health conditions—are already at-risk and under an even greater threat from COVID-19.

We must come together to continue to address this crisis and support our most vulnerable population and those who are caring for our loved ones.

No one is immune from the potential impact of COVID-19, which has the ability to spread even with the strictest containment measures. Long-term care facilities have seen progress in their ability to combat the virus, which is a testament to the relentless commitment of these caregivers and staff.

However, without additional support, residents remain vulnerable to the threats posed by COVID-19. We ask the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to prioritize these residents by providing additional emergency relief funding to all long-term care facilities, including assisted living communities.

In March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act established a mechanism to distribute what now amounts to $175 billion to support health care providers. These funds provided immediate relief to our overwhelmed hospitals at the height of this crisis—a necessary step to ensure our health care system was not overrun.

Of the funds provided by the CARES Act, approximately $102 billion has already been distributed to providers. However, so far, less than 10 percent of the funding distributed by HHS has gone to assist long-term care facilities with little to no funds allocated to assisted living facilities.

And only recently did HHS allocate $4.9 billion in relief funding to skilled nursing facilities by providing each facility with a fixed distribution.

While it is a relief to see hard-hit skilled nursing facilities receive critical funding, we also know that there is a need for additional support from HHS for the facilities most impacted by this virus. This is also true for assisted living facilities, which are also being profoundly impacted by the virus.

Many of Virginia’s long-term care residents belong to the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation. They have lived through some of our country’s darkest days. As we tackle this crisis, we would do well to learn from their courage and resolve.

For them, COVID-19 is another historical challenge they’ve experienced—and together we will overcome it.

We owe it to these generations, who have sacrificed so much for us, to provide them with the best care possible. This should not be a matter of debate.

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