Buchanan: Tap Pandemic Funds to Protect Seniors
WASHINGTON – With COVID-19 spiking in long-term care facilities, Congressman Vern Buchanan today urged Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to dedicate a significant amount of remaining COVID relief funds to nursing homes and other senior care facilities.
In a letter to Azar, Buchanan highlighted the urgent need among these facilities to purchase additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including gloves and masks, ramp up testing and screening procedures as well as hire additional staff.
Buchanan noted that unused funds remain in the Provider Relief Fund created under the CARES Act passed by Congress in March. Congress appropriated $175 billion for the program. At least $32 billion remains unspent.
This fund allows HHS to provide assistance to a broad array of health care providers, such as hospitals, medical centers and assisted living facilities, to cope with the pandemic. According to HHS, approximately $143 billion has been allocated from the fund to date, of which the largest share has gone to rural and urban hospitals. Thus far, nursing homes and assisted living facilities have received roughly $10 billion in assistance from the fund.
"Everyone knows by now that the elderly are most at risk," Buchanan said in asking the secretary to focus the remaining funds on senior care facilities. "I hope you will consider my request and prioritize the remaining funds where they are urgently needed."
Health experts and groups such as the AARP have stressed the need for additional funding for nursing homes as coronavirus cases continue to rise. A new investigation by NBC News found significant areas of concern with regards to PPE, testing and staffing at nursing homes with 10 percent of facilities lacking even a week’s supply of masks, 20 percent seeing a shortage of aides and nearly a third having to wait three to seven days for test results. Nursing homes are also seeing a record number of outbreaks with 1,300 nursing homes reporting three or more cases during the first week of November.
Buchanan also said that further assistance for nursing homes should be a top priority in any future coronavirus package passed by Congress.
Seniors are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus with 80 percent of COVID related deaths occurring among those 65 and older, with the highest fatality rates involving persons 85 and older. According to the Florida Department of Health, about 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Florida during the pandemic have been linked to long-term care facilities. Nationally more than 100,000 residents and staff at long-term care facilities have died due to coronavirus.
Buchanan has been committed to helping protect seniors during the coronavirus pandemic. In August, Buchanan co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to permanently extend Medicare’s telehealth coverage beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. These services make it easier for seniors to avoid many in-office visits and instead receive care from a doctor in the safety of their home, significantly reducing the risk of coronavirus transmission. In September, Buchanan sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to ensure all seniors enrolled in Medicare receive a coronavirus vaccine free.
Buchanan represents more than 225,000 seniors in the nation’s seventh-oldest congressional district.
The full text of the letter to Secretary Azar is below:
Dear Secretary Azar:
As coronavirus cases continue to spike in nursing homes across the country, I am writing to urge you to consider dedicating a significant amount of the remaining money in the Provider Relief Fund to help nursing homes and other senior care facilities combat this deadly disease. With now more than 100,000 Americans deaths from the coronavirus linked to long-term care facilities, it’s clear that protecting our seniors must be one of the highest priorities.
Earlier this year, Congress appropriated the Provider Relief Fund with $175 billion to help health care providers including hospitals, home health agencies, and skilled nursing facilities. According to HHS, approximately $143 billion has been allocated from the fund to date, of which the largest share has gone to rural and urban hospitals. Thus far, nursing homes and assisted living facilities have received roughly $10 billion in assistance from the fund.
From the middle of September through late October, nursing homes saw confirmed COVID-19 cases increase by more than 40 percent. These alarming trends are a particularly serious concern for my home state of Florida. Florida has the largest population of senior citizens in the United States, with more than 20 percent of our residents being 65 years and older.
Health experts and organizations including the AARP have sounded the alarm that more resources are needed to support nursing homes. These are significant areas of concern with regards to PPE, testing and staffing at nursing homes with 10 percent of facilities lacking even a week’s supply of masks, 20 percent seeing a shortage of aides and nearly a third having to wait three to seven days for test results.
It is clear that long-term care facilities, desperately need and deserve additional support right now. Money from the Provider Relief Fund could be used to purchase additional Personal Protective Equipment, including gloves and masks, ramp up coronavirus testing and screening procedures and hire additional staff.
Again, I strongly urge you to provide much-needed funding to help these facilities fight the coronavirus and keep our senior citizens and front-line health care workers safe. Protecting our most vulnerable population must be a top priority.