HENRICO, V.A. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger is leading a multi-Member effort calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release billions of dollars in funding to long-term care facilities after repeated delays, as well as to provide answers to Congress about the reasons and decision-making behind these delays.
Nursing home residents are at high risk of infection and death from COVID-19. Currently, there have been more than 7,700 outbreaks at nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the country since the pandemic began, including more than 160 in Virginia alone. In Central Virginia, one facility in Spanberger’s district—Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center—has accounted for 51 COVID-19-related deaths, the highest death toll at a long-term care facility in the United States.
In their letter, Spanberger and 18 of her colleagues called on HHS Secretary Alex Azar to respond to this crisis by immediately releasing billions of dollars in federal funding already approved by Congress and signed into law by President Trump. Together, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act provided $175 billion for healthcare providers that provide diagnoses, testing, or care for individuals with COVID-19. However, U.S. long-term care facilities have only received about $3 billion in federal assistance since these bills were signed into law.
“We urge you to release PHSS funds appropriated by the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection and Health Care Enhancement Act to long-term care facilities as soon as possible,” said Spanberger and her colleagues. “Additional financial support is essential to protecting the vulnerable populations these facilities serve.”
“This is an unprecedented health crisis requiring significant funding to protect residents and caregivers,” said Keith Hare, President & CEO, Virginia Health Care Association – Virginia Center for Assisted Living. We’re grateful for the efforts of Rep. Spanberger and other Members of Congress who recognize this need and support this funding which is so vital to our efforts to help long term care residents recover from COVID-19.”
In the letter to Secretary Azar, Spanberger and her colleagues also called for HHS to brief Congress about the causes of unacceptable funding delays.
The letter continues, “We request a Congressional briefing from HHS about the reasons for the delay and an overview of the consultative process that informed any eventual distributive methodology for long-term care providers. We are deeply troubled and frustrated by the delays and the lack of clarity around the agency’s decision-making processes to date.
Spanberger’s letter was signed by U.S. Representatives Terri A. Sewell (D-AL-07), Paul D. Tonko (D-NY-20), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA-08), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Cindy Axne (D-IA-03), John B. Larson (D-CT-01), Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D-MA-04), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (D-IL-04), Mike Doyle (D-PA-18), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ-01), Darren Soto (D-FL-09), Dwight Evans (D-PA-03), Antonio Delgado (D-NY-19), Brian Higgins (D-NY-26), Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR-04), Julia Brownley (D-CA-26), Jahana Hayes (D-CT-05), and William R. Keating (D-MA-09).
Click here to read the letter, and the full letter text is also below.
Dear Secretary Azar,
We write to express our concern and frustration that long-term care facilities have not received sufficient financial support from the $175 billion Congress has appropriated to the Public Health and Social Services (PHSS) Fund over the past six weeks. Long-term care facilities are on the front lines of caring for the most vulnerable people in our communities, and it is unacceptable that financial support for them has been so delayed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes that nursing home residents are at particularly high risk of infection and death from COVID-19. Since the start of the outbreak, media reports suggest that more than 25,000 long-term care residents and workers have died of COVID-19 – one-third of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. In central Virginia, 51 residents died in one facility – nearly a third of that facility’s total population. There are currently 7,700 outbreaks in facilities across the country, including 160 in Virginia. Without federal action, these communities could experience tragedies on the scale of what central Virginia has already endured.
Long-term care facilities are struggling to contain these outbreaks and keep their residents and workers safe. Additional financial resources would allow facilities to purchase more personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, add additional staffers, and improve access to testing for residents and workers—which is the foundation of any containment strategy.
We are disappointed that your department has used methodologies that minimize long-term care facilities’ awards when distributing funds from the more than $70 billion allocated to date. Congress was clear in both the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection and Health Care Enhancement Act that “eligible health care providers” for distributions from the PHSS Fund include both “Medicare and Medicaid suppliers and providers.” As you know, nursing homes are disproportionately dependent on Medicaid for reimbursement, so a methodology based on percentage of total patient revenue minimizes their awards. Such a methodology also limits awards to assisted living facilities, which offer limited reimbursable medical services.
We urge you to release PHSS funds appropriated by the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection and Health Care Enhancement Act to long-term care facilities as soon as possible. Additional financial support is essential to protecting the vulnerable populations these facilities serve.
Additionally, we request a Congressional briefing from HHS about the reasons for the delay and an overview of the consultative process that informed any eventual distributive methodology for long-term care providers. We are deeply troubled and frustrated by the delays and the lack of clarity around the agency’s decision-making processes to date.
The staff and residents in skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities around the country desperately need your immediate and ongoing support. Ensuring that this funding is delivered to these providers promptly is critical to their primary role in flattening the curve of this virus and protecting our nation’s seniors and most vulnerable. We look forward to continuing to work with you to keep these residents safe from COVID-19.
Spanberger’s letter builds on her ongoing efforts to provide federal assistance to residents and staff amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at Virginia nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Last month, Spanberger led a bipartisan effort urging U.S. House and U.S. Senate leadership in both parties to include emergency funding for nursing home and long-term care facilities in the next iteration of COVID-19 legislation. Spanberger also led a bipartisan group of Virginia members in urging HHS to swiftly distribute a minimum of $25 billion in federal funding to nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Virginia and across the country.
And in March 2019, Spanberger and U.S. Representative Denver Riggleman (R-VA-05) pressed HHS to use its authorities under the Defense Production Act to provide immediate, additional supplies of personal protective equipment to impacted nursing homes and long-term care centers.