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Tampa Bay long-term care facilities got millions in Paycheck Protection Program loans

For facilities already under financial stress, COVID-19 made matters worse.

When Pilar Carvajal’s company, Innovation Senior Management, was hired a year ago to help run Safety Harbor Senior Living, the assisted-living and memory-care facility already was in distress, she said.

As soon as Carvajal’s team arrived, the administrator of the 50-bed facility left. Then the resident-care director left. Then the food-service director left. Money was needed to freshen up the 10-year-old facility with new carpeting, dishes and furniture, said Carvajal.

“Basically, for the first six months we were in there, we were really performing CPR on the property, because it just basically fell apart on us,” she said. “By the time January came around, we were ready to fly. Everything was stable. And then, the inklings of the pandemic came around.”

Because of that, Safety Harbor Senior Living applied for and received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, intended to help businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic. The $151,700 helped pay the salaries and overtime costs of approximately 20 staffers, Carvajal said, but the business failed anyway.

The facility will close on Aug. 7.

At least 49 long-term care facilities across Tampa Bay received Paycheck Protection loans, according to the first round of reports released this month. In total, the homes reported that they were saving 3,941 jobs.

Arlington Gardens, an assisted-living facility in Pinellas Park, received between $150,000 and $350,000 and said it was saving 28 jobs. Concordia Village of Tampa, an assisted-living facility in Tampa, received between $2 million and $5 million and said it was saving 363 jobs. St. Mark Village in Palm Harbor received $2 million to $5 million and said it was saving 250 jobs.

Related: These Tampa Bay companies got hundreds of millions in small business PPP loans

The pandemic is challenging the finances of long-term care facilities, said Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida. The trade group represents about 250 retirement homes and other elder-care facilities.

In most cases, admissions are down, and residents who have left have not been replaced, he said. Also, long-term care providers are doing work they traditionally didn’t have to do, such as creating separate COVID-19 wards and providing personal protective equipment, Bahmer said.

“The work that they do normally hasn’t stopped,” he said, “and so accomplishing both of those tasks simultaneously is going to require some support.”

A report published by his organization last week detailed some of those expenses.

“COVID-19-related increases in costs for staffing, testing and disinfecting are driving operating losses to many providers from $100,000 per month to $3 million per month,” the report said, adding that a recommended bi-monthly testing of staff for coronavirus would cost $25,000 to $300,000 a month, depending on the facility’s size.

“So when you add the cost of staff testing to reduced occupancy and other related costs, you end up in a situation where, even with the support of the PPP loans, where those dollars are running out,” Bahmer said.

Some member facilities of LeadingAge Florida have reserves that will carry them through the next few months, Bahmer said, but the losses are not sustainable.

He hopes that a COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress in the next few weeks will include funds for long-term care. LeadingAge’s national organization has asked for billions of dollars in aid for the industry.

Long-term care facilities are facing economic hurdles beyond protective equipment costs and lowered admissions, said Kristen Knapp, spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association, a trade group representing nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

For several months, hospitals were not doing elective surgeries, which often result in patients going into long-term care for rehabilitation, Knapp said. And even before the coronavirus, the industry was experiencing a workforce shortage, because entities such as Target were paying better wages, she said.

Some facilities are paying overtime and giving “heroes pay” to keep staff coming to work in a place where they’re putting their lives at risk, she said. Some providers are even picking up daycare costs for staff members.

Long before the coronavirus, AARP was discussing the future of long-term care with other industry leaders in Tallahassee, said Jeff Johnson, state director of AARP Florida.

“The current model is not sufficient for our future needs,” he said.

The number of people who need long-term care is growing as Baby Boomers age, he said. Plus, people are tending to have fewer children — the people who might otherwise care for them. And as much as people want to age in place, Medicaid and state funding often don’t cover the cost of at-home care.

Add to that the evolving nature of care facilities, which over the past 20 or 30 years have added rehabilitation and recovery services, particularly for memory care. Because of that, he said, they need more and higher qualified staff.

The coronavirus, which has hit residents of long-term care facilities particularly hard, also has left a legacy that will demand better care, he said.

“The idea of a traditional nursing home, where you put a bunch of people who are frail into a facility and keep them pretty close together, has always been a problem for infection control, and this has really opened a lot of people’s eyes,” Johnson said. “We need to figure out how to design them in a way that makes them less of a hotbed for infection.”

Johnson talks about a financial reckoning for long-term care facilities, particularly after the lockdowns intended to insulate residents from infections.

“It’s reasonable to assume that what this pandemic has done for a lot of families is make them go back and rethink whether putting a family member into a facility that could be locked down for months at a time is really what they want to do,” he said.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Connie Humberg contributed to this report.

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