When COVID-19 first appeared, it was thought that hospitals would be overrun and lose capacity to admit patients.
To that end, both federal and state governments made choices that unfortunately favored hospitals but that endangered long-term care facilities. Some states even mandated that nursing homes accept COVID-19 patients released from hospitals – a vital error. In most areas nursing homes felt “abandoned” during the early days of the pandemic, despite the well-known research that indicated that the disease would be lethal for the patients they serve.
As a result, some feel nursing homes are not measuring up compared to hospitals. If you have a loved one in, or are employed by a nursing facility however, you may have a better understanding as to why nursing homes are at such risk for COVID-19 and a higher rate of deaths. Close to 40 percent of all COVID-19 related deaths in the U.S. are happening in nursing homes. Of cases reported in Tennessee nursing facilities, approximately 10 percent result in a fatal outcome.
Chris Wallace of Fox News recently interviewed Mark Parkinson, President and CEO of American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. Parkinson noted that before having all the facts on COVID-19 nursing home visitors were the norm, staff personnel worked closely with patients and COVID-19, being asymptomatic, spread quickly. In addition, Personal Protection Equipment and the few testing supplies available went to hospitals.
In the past few months, I’ve spoken with nearly every member of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation, all of who are concerned about COVID-19 and its effect on nursing homes. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Sen. Lamar Alexander and our congressmen have offered assistance, practical advice, and in some cases, have done the hard work which resulted in making the right things happen.
One example of this is the federal Department of Health and Human Services allocating $5 billion of the CARES ACT to assist nursing homes in their recovery. This is a huge first step and I was ecstatic to see it — but we need much more, especially in the harder hit areas where reimbursement doesn’t come close to covering the cost.
Additionally, Gov. Bill Lee and his administration, working with the Unified Command Group, have offered excellent advice and are working to ensure the federal dollars which have flowed to the state are ultimately passed on to the providers. All these efforts are greatly appreciated but even more needs to be done.
Testing has been an issue that is finally being resolved.
Facilities that could afford to source their own tests did not have to wait for the government to step up or to send the funds; but not all facilities were in that position. A newly released state-by-state breakdown from AHCA/NCAL shows it would cost $672 million nationwide to test all 4.4 million nursing home and assisted living residents and staff just one time. So, if a nursing home had few or no cases, then it would likely not feel compelled to spend the money testing until the government provided the funds to do so.
With the recent $5 billion allotment universal testing may finally be achieved — at the least, it lights the road to recovery. But it’s only the first step. Much more in both funds and support is needed.
Hopefully, soon we will be allowed to open the doors of nursing homes and assisted living facilities to family and friends. In the meantime, nursing home staffers are doing all they can by arranging in-house celebrations for special occasions, window visits or time with family via FaceTime or Skype.
These workers have become surrogate sons, daughters, sisters, brothers — and friends. As they help their residents find joy and inspire hope by reminding them that family members will soon return, their efforts can only be counted as valiant.
Gerald Coggin is a member of the Government Relations Committee of the American Healthcare Association, a former Senior Vice President of National Healthcare Corporation (NHC) in Murfreesboro and current consultant/advisor to the group.