Urgent attention needed to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes

15 Jul 2020 | 01:06

The American Health Care Association (AHCA) and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) sent a letter on July 14 to the National Governors Association (NGA) warning states of imminent outbreaks at nursing homes and assisted living facilities given the major spikes in new cases in several states across the U.S., combined with serious personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages and significant delays in getting testing results for long term care residents and caregivers.

Independent research by Harvard Medical School, Brown University’s School of Public Health and University of Chicago showed the level of COVID cases in the surrounding community was the top factor in outbreaks in nursing homes. Given this, the long-term care industry is very concerned these major outbreaks of new cases will lead to a dramatic increase in cases in nursing homes and assisted living communities.

Key excerpts and requests for governors outlined in the letter include:

1. Expediting lab processing time and a solution for on-site testing with reliable and rapid results. AHCA/NCAL recently conducted a survey of its members, nearly nine in 10 (87 percent) nursing homes and assisted living communities said obtaining test results back from the lab companies is taking two days or longer (63 percent – two to four days, 24 percent five days or more). The amount of time it is taking to receive testing results is hurting the ability of long term facilities to fight the virus. Regular testing of nursing home and assisted living staff is a vital step in controlling the spread of COVID-19, but is not effective without obtaining timely test results.

2. Provide additional support for PPE supplies – especially N-95 masks. Currently, nearly 20 percent (one out of five) of nursing homes report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that they either do not have or have less than a one-week supply of PPE, and more than half of assisted living communities have less than a two-week supply of N-95 masks and gowns. N-95 masks are still not available and were not included in the FEMA shipments to nursing homes. Given the fact we are several months into the response of this pandemic and the lack of PPE supplies is still an issue is very concerning. We request governors and state public health agencies help secure and direct more PPE supplies to nursing homes and assisted living communities.

3. Work in close coordination with long-term care providers on reopening facilities to visitations. Providers are eager to welcome back family and friends to our facilities, but the health and safety of our residents and staff will always be our top priority. With major spikes in cases in several states, we are very concerned about reopening long term care facilities. In order to protect our residents and caregivers, state public health agencies must work closely with long term care providers to ensure they have the supplies, testing and staffing to reopen safely.

Mark Parkinson, President & CEO, American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living

Scott Tittle, National Center for Assisted Living Executive Director