By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

Two advocacy groups this week asked the nation’s governors for additional assistance in preventing more COVID-19 cases from spreading through nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Leaders from the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL), in a July 14 letter sent to the National Governors Association, requested expedited COVID-19 testing results and additional resources for on-site testing.

In a recent AHCA/NCAL survey, 87% of nursing homes and long-term care facilities polled said obtaining COVID-19 test results is taking two or more days. Among respondents, 56% said lab processing was the leading obstacle to test access.

“The amount of time it is taking to receive testing results is hurting the ability of long-term facilities to fight the virus. Regular testing of nursing home and assisted living staff is a vital step in controlling the spread of COVID-19, but is not effective without obtaining timely test results,” the groups wrote. “For nursing homes and assisted living communities to protect residents and staff, we need on-site testing with reliable and rapid results.”

To protect workers, the groups asked for additional personal protective equipment (PPE), especially N95 masks. AHCA/NCAL referenced Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicating nearly half of all long-term care facilities own a two-week or less supply of N95 masks and gowns.

“Given the fact we are several months into the response of this pandemic and the lack of PPE supplies is still an issue is very concerning,” the organizations wrote. “We request governors and state public health agencies help secure and direct more PPE supplies to nursing homes and assisted living communities.”

Further, and perhaps surprisingly, the groups asked for lifting restrictions on in-person visitations to long-term care facilities — with careful coordination. On top of extra tests and appropriate PPE supplies, reopening these facilities would require more stringent screening protocols (e.g., temperature checks, mandatory masking). With many parts of the nation struggling anew to control the virus, it is unclear how likely or prudent reopening these facilities would be.

Days before AHCA/NCAL sent its letter, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced it will deploy Quality Improvement Organizations to help long-term care facilities located in COVID-19 hotspots across the country. CMS called this “a targeted approach,” but its announcement was short on specifics.

However, CMS did create an independent commission in May to address the pandemic, learn how it affects long-term care facilities, and make recommendations for quality and safety improvements. This is part of a long-term plan the agency announced last year regarding the overall safety of nursing homes.

Author Gary Evans detailed the “heart-wrenching” toll COVID-19 has taken on U.S. nursing homes in a series of articles that appear in the June issue of Hospital Infection Control & Prevention. How many deaths in nursing homes could have been prevented? That is a question families may rightfully ask after the pandemic ends, as reported in the June issue of Healthcare Risk Management.

For all the latest Relias Media COVID-19 pandemic coverage, please click here.