Advocacy Group Calls for Additional COVID Relief Funding for Michigan’s Assisted-Living Homes

 “We didn’t know what a crisis was until COVID.” – Brenda Roberts, MALA

This week is “Senior Action Week” in Michigan, and Wednesday is Older Michiganians Day. It’s a time that’s devoted to advocating for the state’s elderly population. One advocacy group is also calling for federal action to help Michigan’s senior care facilities.

The Michigan Assisted Living Association, or MALA, is calling on Congress for $30 billion in targeted funding, to help senior living and assisted living providers. MALA Director of Quality Assurance and Education Brenda Roberts says, “Assisted living providers have not adequately been recognized for all the hard work that they did during the pandemic and the huge costs that they had related to it.”

MALA says that’s the industry experienced $30 billion just here in Michigan during the past two years of the pandemic.  “Prior to COVID, PPE in an assisted living community was an exception rather than the rule. So now they had PPE equipment, additional training and testing.”

Deborah Allen is the Chief Development and Community Engagement Officer at Grand Traverse Pavilions. She agrees that the pandemic added new layers of regulation and expense. “Nursing homes have been more highly regulated than nuclear power plants, in comparison, during the pandemic. To put that in perspective, it’s kind of been daily changes to mandates, requirements, and expectations. And of course the hardest thing was having to close our doors to the community.”

Grand Traverse PavilionsFor example, Allen says they had “several different iterations of masks that were required for nursing home staff to wear. Each one of those has its own challenges in finding that stock and that supply, the cost of that supply. None of those things initially were accounted for pre-pandemic.”

Technology was also a new expense for adult foster care homes and assisted living centers for seniors who found themselves in isolation during the pandemic. Roberts says, “The expenses related to moving towards technology for assisted-living providers to help their loved ones stay connected. So thankful that we have that technology. Setting up ways for people to visit with their loved ones -the technology. Some people even built outdoor visiting places and things like that.”

MALA acknowledges there was already some funding: $70 million in COVID relief for Michigan’s assisted living providers. But it’s not as much as it may sound like especially over a two year period.  Roberts says, “Michigan legislators did appropriate $70 million for COVID relief for assisted-living providers and we really, really appreciate. But clearly (it was) not enough for what their expenses and experience has been and continues to be.”

She adds the $70 million “was really based on an approximate formula of $100 per person served. While it’s greatly appreciated it it’s not sufficient.”

MALA admits other industries were hurt too but many received far more in federal dollars. “They have a lot of additional expenses related to COVID. I don’t want to minimize, restaurants did too, a lot of other places did too. But some of those other businesses have been recognized with some offset in funding. And we feel like assisted-living providers haven’t had that due attention.”

Allen adds, “A lot of them have been able- for our fast food places- have been able to offer $20-some dollars an hour. Where for our most valued employees, our certified nurse aides that do a lot of direct care for our residents, they’re still well below those numbers.” Seniors

Industry leaders just hope Congress doesn’t forget about seniors and the front-line workers who help care for them. MALA says more help from the federal government could help the businesses that provide care, the seniors, and their families. “It’s really important to keep it as affordable as possible for as many people as possible,” Roberts says.

And additional funding could help offset those expenses so they aren’t passed down to residents and families.

Allen says, “There’s been bailouts of the auto industry, bailouts of the banking industry, bailouts of the airline industry. So one of the most important services that we provide for our community is health care.”