A bipartisan letter led by two Virginia representatives urges Congress to provide funding for long-term care facilities in the next iteration of COVID-19 relief legislation.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, and Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, say in the letter that long-term care facilities face a shortage of health care workers as well as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to keep workers and residents safe. The shortage includes gowns, gloves, surgical masks, N-95 masks, face shields, thermometer covers and hand sanitizer.

“These providers face many challenges as they work diligently to address the serious public health risk posed by COVID-19,” the letter states. “They are in urgent need of staff, essential supplies, and resources to retain health care workers. Therefore, we write to request that you provide additional funding for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund with the needs of long-term care facilities in mind in the next funding package.”

The letter notes that COVID-19 is most common among the elderly population, especially those residing in long-term care facilities. The elderly population is at higher risk from severe illness and death due to COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 400 of the 15,000-plus nursing home facilities in the U.S. have experienced an outbreak of COVID-19.

The Associated Press reported on Monday that more than 3,600 deaths nationwide have been linked to coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

“I’ve heard firsthand from nursing homes in my district about the impossible situation they’re in and we’ve seen the deadly consequences of this virus making its way into our senior communities — to save lives we need to take urgent action,” Wexton said in a news release. “Without adequate resources, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities can’t protect their residents and staff. The need for funding is dire. These communities are on the frontlines of this pandemic, and we have a responsibility to do everything we can to protect our seniors and the dedicated staff caring for them.”

The letter says long-term care facilities require “immediate support” to get them through the crisis.

Jeannie Shiley, president and CEO of the local Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury, said in an email to The Star that, “Increased funding would allow for additional staff and supplies as we battle to keep this virus out of our buildings,”

Shiley added that while staffing isn’t currently an issue at SVWC, “Obtaining supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), has proven to be more challenging. SVWC continues to work with local and state agencies to ensure that we have enough PPE for our staff. We also have residents and other individuals making masks for everyone on campus. We are still in the process of receiving masks and getting them distributed. Due to the difficulty in obtaining PPE, SVWC has adjusted or temporarily suspended some of our services in an order to protect both residents and staff.”

Melissa Fortner, executive director of The Village at Orchard Ridge in Frederick County, said in a statement to The Star that, “To this point, the COVID-19 pandemic has not created any staff resource issue for The Village at Orchard Ridge’s independent living community or Orchard Woods Health Center. As we prepare for a surge of positive COVID-19 cases expected in Virginia in late April or early May (as shared by Governor Northam), access to personal protective equipment (PPE) is our greatest concern moving forward.”

Amir Avin, Wexton’s press secretary, said House and Senate leadership have received the letter and are currently in negotiations.

— Contact Josh Janney at jjanney@winchesterstar.com

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