Critter Corner: Virginia’s Nursing Homes Prepare for New Testing Requirement

Dear Angel,

My father is in a nursing home in Spotsylvania County. I am concerned about his safety during the coronavirus pandemic. One concern is staff coming to work sick or asymptomatic, which happened in a nursing home where his friend resides. How often are Virginia nursing homes supposed to conduct testing of staff? Thanks for your help!

Tess DeStaff

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A. Late last month, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced “new resources” to help nursing homes combat the ongoing spread of COVID-19, including an additional $5 billion in funding for long-term care facilities and plans to deliver rapid antigen tests to facilities. CMS also declared that all nursing homes in states with a percent positivity rate of 5% or higher would be required to conduct weekly testing of all staff members. Virginia’s percent positivity rate has been hovering slightly above 7% since mid-July.

Staff Will Get Tested At Least Once a Week

In Virginia, fear of staff transmission motivated early requests for the state to release information on nursing homes with outbreaks. In addition, calls for weekly staff testing have been made for Virginia and other states, not only by CMS, but by industry leaders and public health experts. To make this possible, CMS will send rapid point-of-care antigen testing machines — said to deliver results within 15 minutes — to more than 15,000 nursing homes over the next few months. Currently, 23 facilities in Virginia have been prioritized to receive the devices. The delivery includes an initial batch of test kits, but nursing homes are required to replenish the materials themselves.

Concerns Still Remain that Nursing Homes Lack PPEs

Although weekly testing is very much needed, industry groups are concerned that nursing homes lack resources for all the personal protective equipment (PPEs) also needed. The American Health Care Association-National Center for Assisted Living recently released CMS data showing that between 14% and 19% of Virginia nursing homes still don’t have a one-week supply of basic equipment including gowns, N95 respirators, and surgical masks. Mark Parkinson, CEO of American Healthcare Association, said in a statement that state governments “need to take immediate action to protect nursing homes by ensuring facilities have adequate supplies of PPE.” Hopefully, the $5 billion dollars in government funding will help secure more of these resources for nursing homes.

Communicating Your Concerns When a Loved One is in a Nursing Home

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been especially hard hit by COVID-19, leaving many families rightfully worried about their loved ones. If you have any concerns about your loved one and his or her nursing home, don’t be afraid to ask the nursing home management and staff for information. Also, be sure to talk to your loved one to address his or her questions and concerns. Visit if permitted (wear a mask and practice social distancing) and stay in touch with them remotely to get a feel for how things are going. Reaching out to your loved one is also especially important to keep them from feeling isolated and alone.

Hope this is helpful,

Angel

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