PEORIA - When Heartis Village of Peoria notified families about a one-time $750 COVID-19 service fee last week, some folks weren’t happy.
"This is horribly low, to take advantage of people like that who are sitting in a vulnerable state, to charge that kind of fee, and the little bit of PPE they’ve given out, and one test paid for by insurance," said one resident’s family member, who asked to remain anonymous.
To address those concerns, Heartis mailed a second letter July 1 to better explain the fee. The following is an excerpt:
"From the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we put additional health and safety measures in place to protect our residents and staff. Heartis Village is a licensed assisted living facility and unlike nursing homes, we are a private facility and do not qualify for any state or federal financial support. In the months since the start of COVID-19, we have incurred close to $100,000 of additional expenses associated with PPE supplies, staff member hazard pay and bonuses."
Heartis Village has only received a small supply of PPE from the Illinois Emergency Management Association, and staffing costs have gone up, said Kathy Swann, vice president of sales and marketing for Frontier Management, LLC, the parent company of Heartis Village in an emailed statement.
"In order to retain our staff and continue to provide quality care to our residents throughout this crisis, we have continued to pay our staff bonuses for their attendance," she said.
While COVID-19 has been expensive for all long-term care facilities, assisted living facilities are suffering more because they have not gotten the same amount of financial assistance as nursing homes, said Matt Feucht, administrator of Apostolic Christian Skylines in Peoria, a full-service senior care facility with both assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.
"I would say that it’s hitting the assisted living setting very hard," he said. "Assisted living receives no funds, but still there is a requirement for PPE, still a requirement for them to remain in their rooms for meals, so you have more labor costs to get the meals to them. There’s still similar requirements because the requirements were for congregate living, that included assisted living."
Most area nursing homes, which are licensed through the federal government, have received at least a portion of the money allocated to them through the CARES Act stimulus package late in May. A total $4.9 billion in COVID-19 relief funds were allocated for skilled nursing facilities. But assisted living facilities, which are licensed through the state, were not included in that grant. Most of them have received nothing, said Karen Messer, President and CEO of LeadingAge Illinois which represents long-term care facilities all over the state.
"There is still a possibility that they might get something from the state level when the state gets their money from the CARES Act. But I don’t know if that’s going to happen," she said during a recent phone interview.
Personal protective equipment, which has skyrocketed in price, is just one of the expenses facilities have incurred since COVID-19 hit the scene, said Messer. More expensive yet has been the rising payroll costs. Practices imposed by the various public health organizations to slow the spread of COVID-19, like the ban of communal dining in mid-March, have forced many facilities to hire additional help
"You have to have staff deliver the residents’ meals personally to every unit, and that could be three times a day," said Messer. "That’s intense. It’s a whole lot different to do that than to set up a buffet."
When the Illinois Department of Public Health gave facilities the go-ahead to do outdoor visits, many residents and family members were delighted. But the edict brings on another expense for facilities as workers are shifted from other duties to arrange and monitor visits.
"The outdoors visits are increasing our hours about 20 hours a week," said Feucht.
Labor costs for nurses have also risen. Many facilities brought in extra people, instituted hazard pay, or hired workers with a higher skill level, said Messer.
"Unlike skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities don’t have to have an RN on duty 24 hours a day. So some assisted living facilities, if they had cases of COVID, might have brought on a nurse."
At the same time long-term care facilities were hit with the added cost of COVID-19 they were also hit by declining revenue.
"We had a full waiting list when this all started back in March, and now we have a number of openings with not a lot of interest," said Feucht. "We’ve had individuals leave to go to be with loved ones because their loved ones can’t come in to see them, which we’ve actually encouraged," he said. "And unfortunately, because there’s been such stringent requirements for visitation, very few people have interest in wanting to move to assisted living right now."
At Apostolic Christian Skylines, which has not had any cases of COVID-19, two duplexes newly equipped as quarantine space are currently sitting idle, and two beds in the nursing center have been used to quarantine patients returning from hospital visits. Those represent a loss of revenue, said Feucht.
Messer pointed out the fact that the cancellation of elective surgeries also led to a loss of revenue for both nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
"A lot of time when older people have elective surgery they go to a nursing home to recuperate. Sometimes they will even go to an assisted living community to just get back their sea legs. Because of COVID those admissions are not coming. So all providers have seen a significant loss of new admissions since March," said Messer.
While some residents and family members at Heartis Village were upset by the $750 COVID-19 fee assessed by management, other’s support the decision. Dick Wright, president of the resident committee, has lived at Heartis with his wife for two and a half years.
"Yes, on the one hand it’s disheartening that we have to pay $750, but on the other hand I am thrilled to pay that because we got what we wanted, which was a whole facility that didn’t have COVID," he said. "When all of this started, management here said we’re gonna do our job, we are gonna protect our residents… They went out and got the supplies to handle it. There’s like two rooms of stuff, masks and gowns and gloves... I’ve got high praise for the management of this facility. I’m darned glad to be here, and I’m darned glad to pay the $750 because my wife is not ill and that’s the most precious thing to me."
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.