As Virus Cases Rise in Long-Term Care Facilities, Industry Seeks Help

Southern Pines nursing home resident Wayne Swint gets a birthday visit from his mother, Clemittee Swint, in Warner Robins, Ga., on Friday, June 26, 2020.

Southern Pines nursing home resident Wayne Swint gets a birthday visit from his mother, Clemittee Swint, in Warner Robins, Ga., on Friday, June 26, 2020. AP Photo/John Bazemore

 

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Nursing homes and other facilities in states where the virus is surging are seeing especially large increases in case counts, according to a new analysis.

Coronavirus cases in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, continue to rise, despite strict measures to block the highly contagious illness from spreading within them, according to a new analysis. The problem is especially bad in states that are hotspots for the virus.

The Kaiser Family Foundation looked at trends in long-term care facilities across 35 states over a 14-day period ending July 10 and found that coronavirus cases increased 11% during that time. In 23 states that the foundation identified as hotspots, cases increased from 123,000 to 144,800, or 18%. Among 12 non-hotspot states, the increase in cases was just 4%, rising from 125,500 to 130,300.

Texas and Florida, two states where the virus has been generally surging in recent weeks, had the highest increases in long-term care facilities, with cases rising by about 50% in both states during a two-week span, according to the analysis.

Groups that represent long-term care facilities are pushing Congress to provide help for the industry in any forthcoming coronavirus relief legislation. They say nursing homes and assisted living communities are short on protective equipment, lack access to reliable virus testing and are struggling financially as virus-related costs rise and fewer residents move in.

On Wednesday, President Trump said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would distribute an additional $5 billion to nursing homes through a program known as the Provider Relief Fund and that facilities in higher-risk areas would get more of the money.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living applauded this move. But Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the group, said it is important that Congress provide an additional $100 billion for the Provider Relief Fund, which is accessible to all health care providers affected by the coronavirus.

Congress allotted a total of $175 billion for the fund in two previous pieces of coronavirus relief legislation.

Trump also pledged on Wednesday that his administration would provide nursing homes with additional devices to test their staff for the coronavirus, as well as technical assistance and other support.

The long-term care sites covered by the Kaiser Family Foundation analysis include nursing homes, assisted living, adult care centers and similar facilities. These types of facilities are of special concern because people who are older, or who have pre-existing health problems, can be more vulnerable to the deadly effects of Covid-19, the respiratory illness that the coronavirus causes.

In New York, at least 6,500 nursing home residents had died of the virus as of last week, more than 6% of the state’s entire nursing home population, ProPublica has reported. There, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has faced criticism over a state policy that resulted in patients who were sick with Covid-19 being sent from hospitals to nursing homes.

While a rise in testing could account for some of the increased case counts in long-term care facilities, the Kaiser Family Foundation report concludes that there is likely a real increase in infections happening in places like Texas and Florida.

Getting a full picture of coronavirus cases in nursing homes and similar facilities around the country is complicated because of gaps and inconsistencies in how different states track and report data.

State and federal authorities and the facilities themselves have tried to adopt safeguards—like limits on visitors, temperature checks for workers, as well as testing people for the virus—to keep employees and residents safe. But workers still have to come and go to keep the sites running and getting widespread and regular testing programs in place at the facilities has proven to be a challenge.

Last week, the National Center for Assisted Living, American Senior Housing Association and other groups sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell laying out specific requests for any new federal relief package.

In addition to financial support, they’re seeking priority access to personal protective equipment like masks, gowns and gloves, and cost reimbursement for—and greater access to—coronavirus tests for residents and employees.

The industry groups would also like to see long-term care facility residents and workers get a place at the front of the line for receiving a coronavirus vaccine, when one is developed. 

And they’re looking to expand the access that senior living facilities have to the Paycheck Protection Program, which Congress established to provide businesses and nonprofits with forgivable loans to help cover payroll and other costs amid the pandemic.

Virus relief legislation that Democrats pushed through the House in May includes a number of provisions focused on nursing homes, including $150 million for states to establish and implement “strike teams” that could be quickly deployed to assist nursing facilities where there are known or suspected Covid-19 outbreaks.

In the Republican-controlled Senate, GOP lawmakers are still hashing out the details of what they’d like to see in the next aid package and are expected to put forward a proposal soon.

The Kaiser Family Foundation analysis can be found here.

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional information about comments President Trump made on Wednesday evening.

Bill Lucia is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

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