Now that all the serious life-and-death stuff has been taken care of regarding COVID-19, let’s get down to what matters most. The money.
OK, that’s being a bit facetious. It’s always been about the money for some, hasn’t it?
If money were no object, long-term care facilities would be flooded with personal protective equipment, and plenty of test kits — including ones that get processed quicker than the four to five day limbo some employees now find themselves trapped in.
Some might say it’s not about the funding, but have you taken a look lately at how much is NOT flowing toward the acknowledged front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic? That would be the front line called “nursing homes” and senior care facilities. It’s the front line American Health Care Association President and CEO Mark Parkinson warned about over a month ago on CNN, and then again a couple of weeks ago. Lately, he’s been releasing official statements about it nearly every day.
Long-term care is indeed the front line, or ground zero, as Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma acknowledged earlier this week. Six weeks ago, we in the U.S. learned that a nursing home in Kirkland, WA, became the first flashpoint of novel coronavirus deaths in this country. (Never mind that evidence has now shown that some people in the U.S. had it before then. That wasn’t an acknowledged, clustered outbreak.)
And lately comes word that half of European COVID-19 deaths involve nursing home inhabitants. The percentage stateside is believed to be a more modest one-fourth or one-third. But the accountants aren’t done yet, so that portion very well could rise.
So where is the funding that’s so badly needed to extinguish the deadliest origin of this “fire”? It’s not going to the nursing homes. It’s almost as if the keepers of the purse strings are trying to put out the fire at the tip of the flames, not at their source. Like spraying a hose through the top of the campfire, but neglecting to douse the glowing logs and embers that will burn forever if you don’t soak them until they’re cold to the touch.
Nursing homes have been fairly patient players in this deadly game, as they’ve watched hospitals get the lion’s share of the attention and funding. They even had to act openly grateful when regulators decided to pony up more for labs who would otherwise be content to sit on their potentially lifesaving test kits and services if they didn’t get their palms better greased. Yes, they care about the seniors most vulnerable to this scourge.
Now comes word that the latest $100 billion worth of stimulus is really going to be more like $20 billion. And not all of that is coming nursing homes’ way by any means. Dentists and others understandably want their piece of the pie. But barring some life-threatening accident that pushed molars and incisors into unimaginable positions, it seems that certain priorities clearly aren’t matching deeds with words. Nobody has ever had to stack bodies in a makeshift morgue at a dentist’s office.
Circling back to the PPE crisis. It turns out that, like many things in life, this still has come down to the haves and the have-nots. There’s no doubt that there’s not enough to go around, but those who have connections aren’t complaining as much as others, you’ll notice.
So as you fight through this deadly game of chicken with suppliers of funding and equipment-for-auction, get ready to hear somebody utter the now cliched phrase, “Show me the money.” Instead, show them something else. Hint: You have five of them in each hand. You can pick your favorite, or not even dignify it with a response.
James M. Berklan is Executive Editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.