HUD, HHS Ramp Up Test Kit Access for Housing Communities

Regulation | January 12, 2022 | by Juliana Bilowich

Federal agencies announced in December that HUD-assisted housing communities can access COVID-19 test kits from Federally-Qualified Health Centers to distribute to residents. Despite challenges with supplies and partnerships, HUD and HRSA are ramping up efforts to increase access.

**If you are an affordable housing provider who has attempted to partner with your health center for test kit access, please fill out this survey to help us improve the process.**

In December 2021, the federal government announced new efforts to increase access to at-home COVID-19 testing for Americans across the country. Federally-Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), who receive federal funding to to serve demographics, are a key part of the local test kit distribution strategy and are being directed to partner with HUD communities to distribute free tests.

Following the renewed federal emphasis on test kit distribution, HUD and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which oversees FQHCs, announced that community health centers could opt in to request test kits from the federal government; health centers choosing to participate can place orders for Quidel At-Home OTC COVID-19 Testing supplies. The health centers then distribute them at no cost to their local partners, including to HUD-assisted housing communities for further distribution to residents. 

Health centers are able to receive test kits for free distribution by providing test supply inventory information through an ordering portal and by completing a biweekly survey. Test kit ordering cycles for health centers started on December 20, 2021 and continued on a weekly schedule. Additional health centers can onboard into the program on a rolling basis.

Access to COVID-19 Test Kits for HUD-Assisted Housing Communities

Access to testing has become more important - especially for populations at higher risk for COVID-19 - as the pandemic stretches on. HUD and HRSA's announcement states that housing providers can reach out to their community health center to let them know that how many HUD residents need access to the free at-home tests and to coordinate test pick up.

HRSA's announcement stated: "Health centers and Medicare-certified rural health clinics are encouraged to disseminate test kits to their communities to provide access for populations and settings in need of testing, especially populations at greatest risk from adverse outcomes related to COVID-19." In HRSA's FAQs, residents of HUD-assisted housing were included as examples of partners that health centers should seek out.  

In a December 21 email to housing providers, HUD's Office of Multifamily Housing encouraged housing providers to reach out to FQHCs for tests for residents. HUD also added information about test kit access to the HUD Exchange

So far, supply challenges and lack of partnerships between housing providers and health centers have hindered implementation of this strategy. HUD and HRSA are committed to providing access; HUD told LeadingAge that the agency has shared LeadingAge's feedback about non-cooperative health centers with their government partners to help shift course.

Finding Your Community Health Center

Federally-Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), also known as community health centers, receive funds from the federal HRSA Health Center Program to provide primary care services in underserved areas. They must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay and operating under a governing board that includes patients.

Previously during the pandemic, HUD had encouraged housing providers to partner with their Federally-Qualified Health Centers, also known as community health centers, to deliver affordable and accessible health services to HUD-assisted residents. Specifically, HUD encouraged housing providers to contact the FQHCs for assistance with vaccinations and other pandemic resources. The best way to locate your nearest health center is by visiting findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov.

In May 2021, HUD and HHS announced a broadened partnership to increase access to vaccinations for HUD-assisted residents. As part of this effort, HUD developed a map that shows the location of community health centers in proximity to HUD housing communities, and also assigns priority status to certain geographic tracts that are more than 8 miles from a community health center and contain more than 20% assisted units. 

Help LeadingAge Improve Testing Access

LeadingAge is actively working to get affordable housing communities better access to test kits. We have let our partners at the federal agencies know that Federally-Qualified Health Centers need more federal direction to partner with HUD housing communities.

We also recommend that members reach out to their local health centers as soon as possible to discuss the possibility for partnering on testing access. Because health centers first need to "order" tests from the federal government, the health centers will need to assess their are eligible constituents; they are likely not aware that HUD housing communities serving older adults with low-incomes are interested in partnering with them. 

From reports across the country, many health centers are just getting started with ordering tests and quickly run out of storage space. In addition, many are unaware of HUD's Multifamily Housing program and may want more information to begin working with housing communities. 

If you are an affordable housing provider who has attempted to partner with your health center for test kit access, please fill out this anonymous survey to help us give feedback to HUD and HHS to improve the process. Please reach out to Juliana (jbilowich@leadingage.org) for more information.