James Balda
Argentum President and CEO James Balda

Nursing homes aren’t the only long-term care settings that need testing capabilities amid the coronavirus pandemic, Argentum President and CEO James Balda said Friday, a day after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would be sending tests that can rapidly diagnose SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to approximately 14,000 nursing homes via the Defense Production Act.

“Assisted living and other senior living providers also require access to and support for rapid and accurate testing,” Balda said. “COVID-19 testing that offers quick and valid results is essential for all communities serving vulnerable older adults, as those results inform critical operation decisions. While we continue to appreciate the support the federal government is providing to nursing homes, senior living communities have equally urgent needs and also require prioritization for testing.”

Unlike nursing homes, private-pay assisted living providers have not received any direct federal funding for COVID-19-related expenses while incurring significant costs for testing, personal protective equipment, “hero pay” for staff members, and cleaning supplies.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine headshot
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine

The HHS announcement about testing for nursing homes came on the same day that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced an impending state Department of Health order requiring all licensed assisted living communities in the Buckeye State to conduct baseline saliva testing for COVID-19 in residents and staff members. That order is effective today.

The statewide testing initiative, announced by DeWine on Thursday, will provide the testing at no cost to Ohio’s more than 765 assisted living communities.

Pete Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association, said his organization has heard concerns from members about how long the saliva tests take to administer, but they appreciate that the governor’s order allows providers to choose the testing method to use at each community.

“We would prefer that, because of the slow turnaround time on these mass screening tests, which already are in place for skilled nursing facilities, the state use strategic testing for both staff and residents,” Van Runkle told McKnight’s Senior Living.

The minimally invasive tests, which can be self-performed under the guidance of licensed medical staff, have a results turnaround time of 48 hours, DeWine said. The statewide initiative aligns with Ohio’s efforts to test all nursing home residents for the coronavirus. The additional testing in assisted living will enable public health departments to conduct contact tracing sooner, the governor said.

“Our focus has been and remains on protecting Ohioans while navigating this pandemic,” DeWine tweeted. “To achieve this, we must have 100% participation of all assisted living facilities across Ohio.”

DeWine also announced that senior centers and adult day centers can reopen Sept. 21 at reduced capacity.

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has requested that the state Department of Health and Environmental Control “promptly issue up-to-date visitation guidelines providing all direction and information deemed necessary to resume — or require resumption if necessary — in-person visitation with residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.”
  • A work group in Utah is considering easing restrictions and allowing assisted living and nursing home residents to have visitors indoors “where it’s safe and where it’s prudent” and with “strict guidelines” related to COVID-19 cases in facilities and the regions in which they are located, according to the state health department. Even when deemed safe by the state, it would be up to individual facilities whether to allow indoor visits.
  • Family members of long-term care residents could be deemed “essential caregivers” and be permitted to visit loved ones indoors under a bill being written by a Pennsylvania state legislator. The state health department also said it hopes to offer related guidance by the end of the month.
  • Therese Ellis has taken a job at assisted living and memory care community Grand Villa of St. Petersburg in Florida so she can see her 90-year-old father, who is a resident there. Ellis is teaching a life enrichment class, which her father often attends. Parent company Grand Villa Senior Living has several communities across the state and is encouraging other residents’ family members to apply for open positions.

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