With the public health emergency (PHE) set to expire on January 16th, the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra to request an extension of the PHE declaration as long term care providers continue to fight COVID-19. The highly contagious Omicron variant is projected to spread at a high rate for weeks to come and continues to cause a surge in cases across the country – leaving vulnerable populations, such as those in long term care facilities, at serious risk. AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson writes:
“Due to the ongoing and unpredictable battle long term and post-acute care providers must continue to wage against COVID-19, we strongly encourage you to continue to extend the PHE declaration and maintain the related Section 1135 and Section 1812(f) waivers, enhanced Medicaid FMAP to states, and state Medicaid policy flexibilities, such as the waiver for Medicaid redeterminations.”
The letter further explains the unprecedented challenges the long term care sector is facing, including a historic labor crisis that has resulted in a 15 percent decline in its workforce since the beginning of the pandemic. This has caused nursing homes to limit admissions, putting more strain on overwhelmed hospitals that rely on nursing homes to free up beds. Parkinson writes that extending the PHE would help health care providers respond to this challenge:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges to the entire health care continuum and specifically to the long term care profession. Nursing homes are facing a historic labor crisis, losing more than 230,000 caregivers or nearly 15% of the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic. This is the worst among all health care professions and is impacting the sector’s ability to serve patients. More than half of nursing homes are limiting new admissions at a time when overwhelmed hospitals need our assistance to free up precious beds due to the Omicron surge. However, with your help, health care providers, including those in long term care, can access key tools available through the PHE declaration to help respond to this unprecedented challenge.”
In addition to extending the PHE, AHCA/NCAL also urged HHS to prioritize long term care for essential resources, such as tests, testing equipment and a separate allocation of COVID-19 treatments for long term care pharmacies. The letter continues:
“Along with extending the PHE, we implore the federal government to prioritize long term care for access to urgently needed resources, such as COVID-19 testing and treatments … Currently, long term care providers are left to compete on the open market for tests. We urge you to increase the number of shipments with tests and testing equipment supplied to long term care providers as well as ensure our staff and residents remain the utmost priority for testing …
Additionally, the federal government should set up a separate allocation of COVID-19 treatments that long term care pharmacies can access to supply our settings. At present, long term care providers must navigate the various cumbersome ordering process for treatments that each state has set up. This has resulted in delays in accessing life-saving treatments. Establishing a separate process for long term care pharmacies to order treatments directly and increasing the availability of testing in long term care would help our settings identify the virus quickly and save precious lives.”