Coronavirus update 05/13/2020
Coronavirus pandemic update May 13th, 2020
The Administration’s Call to Test Universally in Nursing Homes Needs Structure and Support
On Monday, May 11, 2020, Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator, provided a recommendation to state governors to test all nursing home residents and staff for new coronavirus cases within the next two weeks. This is a welcome and needed development for which we are grateful, as broad, rapid and frequent testing is the best way to get ahead of the outbreak. We have been advocating for this for many weeks. However, it is unclear how it will be accomplished without a consistent supply of tests, proper support and clear rules for implementation.
A small handful of states have already taken decisive, positive steps on this front, such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island and West Virginia. However, there are three potential roadblocks to success in other states:
First, there is a shortage of testing kits – specifically swabs – across the country. This is especially true for nursing homes, with particular issues in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut. As it stands now, it would not be possible to test all nursing home residents and employees without states stepping in with a supply of kits or administering the tests themselves. We understand the Federal government has allocated test kits to states; they need to be prioritized for use in nursing homes. Further, many labs are not equipped to handle the volume of tests they are currently receiving, much less the millions of tests that will need to be run over the next two weeks.
Second, emergency funding is needed to support this initiative. The AHCA/NCAL is pushing for The Department of Health & Human Service to grant its request for $10 billion in emergency relief to help fund expedited testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and additional staffing needed to respond to this unprecedented health crisis. As I mentioned in my May 1st message, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has set aside $130 million in funding in part for mandatory testing in nursing homes in the state. This is important, since testing just once is not a sufficient option; testing will need to be repeated regularly to monitor and protect residents and staff.
In fact, more than 80 percent of U.S. voters over 65-years-old support an additional $10 billion in funding for long term care facilities to provide additional PPE, staff and testing to residents, according to the survey among 1,500 U.S. registered voters conducted on May 6-9, 2020 by GS Strategy Group for the AHCA/NCAL.
Finally, we have already seen that without centralized federal leadership, execution has resulted in a patchwork of approaches and rules, not only state-to-state, but also county-to-county. A consistent approach will allow for efficient, effective implementation that enables nursing homes to focus on care over administrative bureaucracy.
We will continue to advocate for a sensible approach to universal testing, even as we seek partnerships with private labs to access testing on our own. As a country and as a company, this is what we owe to our residents, patients and staff.
Dr. Richard Feifer
Chief Medical Officer