senior gives saliva test
A resident of La Posada, a Kisco Senior Living community, collects a saliva sample and places it in a cooler for shipping. (Photo courtesy of Kisco Senior Living)

A California-based senior living company is adopting the COVID-19 testing approach of professional sports teams to create “safety bubbles” among its staff and residents.

Kisco Senior Living said it is the first in the industry to use pooled saliva PCR testing at its 20 senior living communities in six states. It’s a move the company says will provide more flexibility in reopening and a return to a “new level of normalcy.”

“We have seen the success the ‘bubble’ testing has had in the NBA and NHL, and we know this unique testing strategy will allow our communities to return to traditional five-star dining programs and more robust wellness programs,” Kisco CEO Andy Kohlberg said. “It also will ease many COVID-19 restrictions at communities while safely eliminating the need for quarantining a resident who leaves for a doctor’s appointment or other emergency.”

The testing process provides accuracy levels that mirror typical PCR tests. Pools of up to 100 associates and residents give a few drops of saliva each, providing a combined sample that is sent to the lab. Results are returned within 24 hours. If the pool tests negative, then all participants receive a negative result. If the pool tests positive, then PCR swab testing is completed on each participant to identify positive individuals and quarantine them to minimize potential outbreaks.

Residents will submit samples once a week, and associates will submit samples twice a week. Kisco Senior Living is partnering with SiREM labs in Knoxville, TN, for testing and will send about 32,000 saliva samples each month for processing.

Frequent testing, the operator said, provides a “level of assurance” that coronavirus can be identified quickly.

“This approach is sustainable, relatively inexpensive, and requires minimal extra work for staff,” Vice President of Operations Ed Ward said. “Before saliva testing, nurses were conducting nasal tests and were spending upwards of 20 hours per week administering the tests. With this new testing strategy, anyone on staff can collect the samples, giving nurses time back in their days to focus on resident care.”