HHS Must Release Remainder Of PRF Fund To Long Term Care As Vaccine Mandate Threatens To Cause Further Workforce Challenges

COVID-19; Provider Relief Fund

The Provider Relief Fund (PRF) has been instrumental for long term facilities, which have been at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic since the very beginning.

There is $44 billion left in the PRF that has not yet been distributed, and providers haven’t received any funding so far this year. With the Delta variant causing a surge in cases across the country, long term care facilities still face an ongoing battle against the virus that require substantial resources. The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) sent a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra earlier this month urging the department to release the remainder of the PRF to long term facilities as they continue to battle the virus.

Of the $178 billion in the PRF, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) distributed $13 billion to nursing homes and $1 billion to assisted living communities in 2020. The funding helped mitigate the increase of pandemic-related expenses, including personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and staffing last year. But now providers face a new concern. Last week, President Biden announced that all nursing home staff will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in a forthcoming regulation. Providers are worried that the mandate will potentially exacerbate ongoing workforce challenges within the industry. Long term care facilities have struggled to recruit and retain staff for years, but if the mandate causes more workers to leave the profession, residents may be left without the care they need.

AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson said in a statement, “Focusing only on nursing homes will cause vaccine hesitant workers to flee to other health care providers and leave many centers without adequate staff to care for residents. It will make an already difficult workforce shortage even worse. The net effect of this action will be the opposite of its intent and will affect the ability to provide quality care to our residents. We look forward to working with the Administration in the coming days to develop solutions to overcome this challenge.”

Last week, AHCA/NCAL sent a letter to HHS Secretary Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator (CMS) Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, encouraging the administration to strengthen the policy by including all health care settings in the mandate and allocating resources to support providers in their vaccination efforts. The letter reinforces AHCA/NCAL’s call to release the aid in the PRF to help cover the expected increase in staffing costs once the policy goes into effect.

Close to 75 percent of nursing homes and nearly 60 percent of assisted living communities said their overall workforce situation has gotten worse since 2020. A depleted workforce could lead to devastating closures – and with nearly 2,000 facilities already expected to close by the end of 2021, providers can no longer wait for additional federal support.   

We need to prioritize America’s seniors and health care heroes on the front lines. Caregivers are the backbone of long term care, and residents depend on them day and night for the care they need. HHS has the opportunity to help thousands of long term care facilities and the millions of vulnerable residents in their care by releasing the remainder of the PRF.​