State seeks to bolster COVID-19 testing, training at long-term care facilities
Gov. JB Pritzker announced plans Wednesday to bolster efforts supporting long-term care facilities.
Starting Wednesday, he said 10 teams of 50 nurses will be deployed to facilities across the state. An additional 200 Illinois Department of Public Health nurses will join them in the coming days.
While the nurses’ assistance will be tailored to the needs of the facility, Pritzker said they will focus on conducting swab testing, training existing staff and reviewing and improving hygiene practices and personal protective equipment used by staff.
Infectious disease control experts, advisors and Project HOPE volunteers will continue to be deployed to assist these facilities, he said.
“These are some of our most vulnerable Illinoisans, and the state will do everything in its power to protect them,” Pritzker said.
The department has also secured a contract with New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics to run 3,000 tests per day, at no cost, for long-term care facilities. Test results will be provided within 48 hours, which Pritzker said will allow local health officials and the facilities to take action to protect other staff and residents.
The state has already distributed over 18,000 swabs to 68 facilities in the past 10 days to improve testing capacity.
The department will also work with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to simplify the hiring process for long-term care facilities, which Pritzker said will allow them to bring on temporary nursing assistants. They can also use the Illinois Helps network, which will connect them to medical professionals who have indicated a willingness to volunteer their services.
Pat Comstock, Health Care Council of Illinois director of COVID response, said they were pleased to see the governor implement some of their recommendations around staffing reinforcements, testing and personal protective equipment.
“Staff are working around the clock to protect and care for the elderly who are incredibly vulnerable to coronavirus because of the underlying health conditions that lead them to call a skilled nursing facility their home,” Comstock said in a statement.
Data released over the weekend by the Illinois Department of Public Health show at least 625 nursing homes deaths connected to COVID-19, more than double the 286 deaths reported the week before. Roughly one-third of all Illinois COVID-19 deaths have been tied to long-term care facilities.
At least 4,298 residents or workers have tested positive for COVID-19 at 278 facilities in 24 counties, including 157 facilities in Cook County.
There were 92 COVID-19 deaths reported on Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to 2,215. Officials announced 2,253 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total to 50,355 cases in 96 counties.
A total of 256,667 tests have been completed.
Pritzker also announced the state has acquired a new decontamination system that can safely decontaminate N95 makes up to 20 times without any degradation of filter performance.
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency is disseminating information on the free service to agencies across the state, and Pritzker urged healthcare groups and workers to take advantage of it.
“I cannot overstate how important this in-state resource is to our ability to help our hospitals, our healthcare workers, our law enforcement officials and front-line workers,” Pritzker said.
He also told reporters he has not involved himself in the potential strike on May 8 by SEIU Healthcare at 40 nursing homes. The strike stems from a dispute between the union and the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities, an organization of nursing home and long-term care facility owners, over a contract set to expire at the end of April.
“I would… encourage both sides to come to the bargaining table and get this done,” Pritzker said. “We cannot let our seniors down. We can’t let people who are in long-term care facilities down. It’s too important.”
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