The official response to care homes during the Covid-19 pandemic is reactive and not proactive, Stormont's Health Committee has been told.
Pauline Shepherd of Independent Health and Care Providers said she believed officials were focused on planning to prepare hospitals for a Covid-19 surge.
She added, however, that acute services were "quite rightly" prioritised, given the prediction that coronavirus could claim the lives of 15,000 people locally.
Ms Shepherd appeared in front of the Stormont Health Committee to give her assessment on the policies that have been put in place to help care homes manage during the pandemic.
Her claim that care homes had been left behind is at odds with assurances from the Health Minister and Chief Medical Officer, who said care homes and hospitals were given equal priority.
In response to a question from SDLP MLA Colin McGrath on the matter, Ms Shepherd said: "The focus has been very much on hospital acute sector.
"All the reports that have been done indicate that social care needs to be brought into equal partnership.
"I do feel there was a proactive plan in place for acute care, (but) in social care it has been reactive."
Ms Shepherd told MLAs that care homes were particularly "left behind" in relation to the provision of personal protective equipment.
She admitted, however, that she did not know whether the concerns have been raised over the official response played a part in the deaths of residents.
"That would be one to pick up at a later stage," Ms Shepherd told MLAs.
According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, almost half of all local Covid-19 deaths have occurred in care homes.
However, the actual number of care home residents who have died from coronavirus is likely to be higher because an unknown number have died in hospital.
The Department of Health has said this information is being held by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority.
However, the regulator has denied this is the case.
Speaking at the Health Committee on Wednesday, Robin Swann and Dr Michael McBride said plans were put in place to help care homes prepare, with both men claiming it was the media that was prioritising hospitals.