Nursing home groups say facilities should have been prioritized earlier
Illinois nursing homes expressed support this week for the state’s plan to publish facility data on COVID-19 cases and ramp up testing.
But they also said that the state should have prioritized the facilities sooner, as the newly public data shows that nearly a quarter of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been linked to nursing homes, where many residents have medical conditions that make them more susceptible to severe complications.
Additionally, they are calling for increased funding to address the financial toll the pandemic has taken on their facilities.
“It hits our people in a heavier way than anyone else,” said Matt Hartman, executive director of the Illinois Health Care Association.
As of Sunday, at least 1,860 COVID-19 cases have been reported in 189 long-term facilities in 22 counties. There have been 286 deaths.
The Illinois Health Care Association and the Health Care Council of Illinois, the state’s two largest nursing home associations, say they have been asking for more testing for weeks. And that personal protective equipment has been hit or miss across facilities, with some operating on a day-to-day supply.
Gov. JB Pritzker pushed back at his media briefing Tuesday, saying that his administration has been working with nursing homes on these issues since early March, before there was a disaster proclamation and before he issued his stay-at-home order.
“We shut down visitation to nursing homes and started doing wellness checks of the personnel there. As more was known about how outbreaks in nursing homes occur, we made sure everyone understood there was PPE available,” he said. “There’s quite a lot being done.”
Jason Rubin, a spokesman for Pritzker, said the administration is now able to more aggressively deploy testing at long-term care facilities after securing additional testing supplies, including viral transport media and swabs.
He said they tested two homes over the weekend, and 10 more facilities on Monday.
Hartman said that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “You are doing a couple dozen buildings in a state that has 1,100 long-term care settings.”
Pat Comstock, COVID response director for the Health Care Council of Illinois, said that some facilities have not been able to get any testing conducted and others followed state guidance that called for discontinuing testing once one resident tested positive.
She said that prevents nursing homes from giving families complete information about the health of their loved ones.
“We understand families are terrified at the possibility that their family member may contract coronavirus,” she said.
Hartman said they understand that testing supplies have been limited, but still thinks resources should have been directed to nursing homes earlier. He thinks the spread in some homes is likely worse due to the lack of testing.
“Testing was very limited right away and they had to be judicious in their use of tests. We understand that,” he said. “But we feel prioritization should have happened in our sector despite that.”
Comstock said that many homes are in “dire need” of personal protective equipment. And she said that need will increase as a boost in testing leads to more confirmed cases.
Hartman said that an outbreak would overwhelm the supply of protective equipment for many nursing homes.
“It’s tenuous,” he said.
Pritzker said the state is doing everything it can to acquire more personal protective equipment, and at numerous media briefings has detailed his efforts to scour supplies from across the globe.
“I don’t think it would be fair to say we have not provided PPE to nursing homes,” he said, adding he wants to hear from any nursing homes that do not have enough equipment.
“We want to make sure that all of our seniors are protected,” Pritzker said.
Meanwhile, Hartman said that the costs that facilities are incurring responding to the crisis, including the premium that many are paying for protective equipment, are mounting.
He said that’s why they are asking the state to commit to steering at least $250 million in federal stimulus funds to nursing homes.
Rubin said the homes will likely receive additional funding “as soon as the federal government issues guidance.” In the meantime, he said the state has provided a rate increase for nursing homes providing COVID-19 positive only care. And they have also streamlined the process for eligibility and admissions approvals to bring additional funding into all nursing homes.
Hartman said they have had conversations with the state about a Medicaid rate increase for homes that can stand up a dedicated wing for COVID-19 patients. But he said that so far none of his members have received any additional funding from the state.
“Our costs are astronomical right now,” he said.
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