Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Federal lawmakers negotiating a massive infrastructure deal should allocate support for capital improvements in the nation’s nursing homes, the American Health Care Association and National Association for Assisted Living reiterated Wednesday.

The nation’s largest provider organization said many nursing homes “would like to evolve and make infrastructure investments” in technology, indoor air quality and energy backups, but many cannot afford to do so because of chronic Medicaid underfunding. Medicaid pays for approximately 60% of all nursing home care in the U.S.

While COVID-19 highlighted and exacerbated infrastructure concerns, AHCA noted that associated relief funding has not addressed systemic problems.

“The Provider Relief Fund has helped many facilities cover some of the exorbitant costs stemming from the pandemic, such as hero pay for caregivers and personal protective equipment. Some used this aid for structural changes, such as building COVID units, but each facility varies in how it used the funding, including whether physical alterations were temporary or permanent,” AHCA said in a statement to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. “Regardless, most providers have already exhausted the Provider Relief Funds due to the high, ongoing costs the pandemic demands, and  more federal aid is needed. … The sad truth is that this pandemic is not over, so we need immediate assistance to address the issue at hand and make sure such tragedy never happens again.”

Wednesday was billed as a pivotal day in the infrastructure bill’s legislative journey, but a group of senators blocked a vote intended to open debate. Though President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group agreed last month to key elements of the $1.2 plan, what exactly will be included in a version headed for potential approval remains  unclear. Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), on Wednesday said they needed more time to write a draft.

A group of 22 Democratic and Republican senators said after Wednesday’s first vote that the final version they’re working on will “strengthen America’s infrastructure and create good-paying jobs.”

AHCA/NCAL said it remains hopeful and continues to advocate for other elements originally included as employment or healthcare infrastructure, including strategies to address Medicaid underfunding for nursing homes and to support the direct care workforce.

Its goals for improved nursing home infrastructure include upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, as well as humidification and air pressure that helps prevent the spread of airborne infectious diseases; expanding access to broadband for telehealth; providing back-up energy solutions in the face of increasing emergency weather situations; and enhancing sanitization efforts such UVC lighting and wastewater monitoring to address potential risks.