The nation’s two largest nursing home associations are pressing state governors and federal lawmakers for additional support following a vote this week by a federal advisory panel recommending that residents and long-term care workers get first access to a COVID-19 vaccine. 

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said the recommendation by the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to put long-term care at the front of the line for a COVID vaccine “showed what it means to prioritize the lives of older Americans.” 

She strongly urged Congressional lawmakers to follow suit with additional relief for providers.  

“[ACIP] recognized that those who have been disproportionately harmed need to be first in line for life-saving vaccines, along with the people who care for them. Now it’s Congress’s turn to lead,” Sloan said. 

Overall, Congress has provided about $175 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Provider Relief Fund, which provides needed dollars to healthcare providers impacted by COVID-19. About $10 billion of that funding has specifically been dedicated for nursing homes.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a $908 billion COVID-19 relief proposal that includes liability protections and at least some federal support for long-term care operators this week. The measure has yet to be introduced in either chamber but if it does receive a push, it would be the fifth relief bill passed by lawmakers.

Additional support couldn’t come soon enough for the long-term care industry, Sloan explained. Federal data shows that about 198,800 people aged 65 or older, out of about 249,500, had died from COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Additionally, providers are still struggling to access and pay for the personal protective equipment, testing, supplies, and staffing needed to protect seniors. 

“COVID-related costs are staggering, they are mounting, and they are unsustainable. Some providers are shutting down, and more will follow — unless Congress steps up and provides robust support,” Sloan said. 

Letter to governors 

The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living also has acted in the wake of the ACIP recommendation. AHCA is urging governors to use the panel’s suggestion and ensure long-term care residents and caregivers are the first group to receive a vaccine. 

“An expedited rollout of the vaccine for our long-term care residents and caregivers is vitally important given the level of COVID in our community and in long-term care facilities right now,” AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson and NCAL Executive Director Scott Tittle wrote Thursday in a letter to the National Governors Association.

“A one-month delay in administering the vaccine at long-term care facilities could cost more than 10,000 of our residents their lives. The speed of which states can vaccinate our residents has significant life or death consequences,” they said. 

Parkinson and Tittle added that the direction to prioritize residents and works could save thousands of lives. 

“Given the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of this virus combined with the outbreak of community spread across the U.S., we are extremely hopeful this vaccine will literally be a lifesaver for thousands of residents and expedite the reopening of our facilities to family members and loved ones,” the leaders wrote. 

“We know our collective priority is the wellbeing of our most vulnerable and our health care heroes, and by working together we can protect them through this pandemic,” they concluded.