During the coronavirus pandemic, most facilities that exist to provide care have taken a hit on some level. Many hospitals across the United States are working at full capacity to fight COVID-19, relying upon a network of travel nurses and retired doctors to supplement their normal staff. Other facilities have routed all care to their ICUs; many more are closed altogether.
Amid all this chaos, nursing homes may be the hardest-hit facilities. The outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S. was centered on high-profile incidents in these facilities that received intense media scrutiny. As a result, many were among the nation’s first closed, and these facilities are likely to be among the last health facilities to be allowed to re-open.
New guidelines issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) support that expectation. The agency emphasized in a recent statement that “nursing facilities will be among the last institutions that can safely reopen as the U.S. takes tentative steps toward moving out of COVID-19-induced lockdowns,” per a Skilled Nursing News report from Maggie Flynn.
States have the authority to decide how to interpret those recommendations, of course. But it’s likely they’ll all require — at minimum — the frequent testing of staff and residents for COVID-19. “Further testing of residents may be necessary upon identification of coronavirus symptoms.”
Reasonable as that request is, and assuming that it becomes widely available — still not a certainty in most places as of mid-May, 2020 — frequent testing won’t come at a low cost. And in an era when many facilities were already operating at low margins, and where many have already been closed for months, finding the additional funding could pose a real challenge.
Experts & Leaders Call for Increased Funding for Nursing Home Industry
The long-term care (LTC) and skilled nursing facilities (SNF) that make up the nursing home industry are absolutely essential to healthcare delivery in the United States. These are important facilities, integral not just to the larger American care continuum but vital within the direct communities they serve, too.
For those reasons, many figures and both within and outside the home nursing industry are urging lawmakers to respond to the crisis with emergency funding.
“Moving forward, it is vital that all long term care facilities receive additional support and funding from state governments to conduct expanded testing,” said American Health Care Association (AHCA) president and CEO Mark Parkinson.
“We encourage governors to use the $11 billion that has been allocated to states for expanding testing in our nursing homes, assisted living communities and other long-term care facilities.”
“Our members pay between $200,000 and $250,000 per week to test staff just twice a week,” LeadingAge president and CEO Katie Smith Sloan told Flynn. “That’s $1 million a month. Nursing homes need help from federal or state governments to cover these necessary costs. Today’s guidance delivers none of that.”
‘The Story that Needs to be Told’
In an opinion piece published by The New York Times, Fordham University bioethics professor Dr. Charles C. Camosy attributes this dire need to provide additional funding for nursing home providers and facilities to an initial failure of the country to protect the industry.
“We knew that institutions caring for the elderly and disabled in close quarters would be particularly vulnerable during the pandemic,” he writes. “But we did not act. Personal protective equipment, special training and extra staff went almost exclusively to our critical care facilities. Nursing homes got virtually nothing.”
The press around the COVID-19 nursing home incidents “only tell part of the story,” agrees Genesis HealthCare CEO George Hager. “They do not address the shortfalls and failures of the system that placed us at the end of the line for protections during this crisis, despite the fact that we care for the frailest and most vulnerable members of the population.”
Hager urges workers and leaders — those who “advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves” — to persevere amid the negative publicity surrounding nursing homes in the COVID-19 era. “I hope you know better than to take these negative articles to heart,” he said in a YouTube statement to leaders and infection preventionists within his organization.
“You know the incredible work that you undertake each and every day. Collectively, you protect the lives of tens of thousands of residents and patients who rely on you; residents and patients whose age and comorbidities make them especially at-risk for COVID-19, and that’s the story that needs to be told.”
Are you seeking skilled nurses and clinicians for an SNF or LTC facility? Contact us today to discover how we can help meet your staffing needs.
Disclosure: CareerStaff Unlimited is a company of Genesis HealthCare.