Even with additional testing resources from the federal government, nursing home operators say current costs combined with new surveillance requirements are unsustainable.

“One test kit [is] $33, and that’s if we can find the test kits. If we don’t, we are expected to work with outside laboratories at a cost of $100 a test,” said Julie Thorson, president and CEO of Friendship Haven Fort Dodge, IA. 

Julie Thorson

“In addition to testing our employees twice a week, [if] we happen to have an employee [test] positive, we have to test our residents once a week. The cost is unsustainable. We need more help,” she added. 

Thorson’s comments came during a LeadingAge press conference Wednesday morning. She joined several other providers in demanding that the next COVID-19 relief bill include “historic levels of support and resources” specifically for aging services providers. 

Friendship Haven has had to change its operations, which includes hiring for entirely new positions, in its fight against COVID-19. In particular, the operator has focused its hiring on companions to help fight social isolation among residents, and screeners who check employees twice a day for the disease. 

Thorson described workforce challenges as a “daily, constant burden” because of the pandemic. She added that workers’ mental and physical fatigue could impair their ability to combat the virus, and that without additional funding, providers could succumb.  

“We are losing good people due to COVID-19. We need additional funding,” she said. “We will do our best — we always do — but we need additional funding to pay for this.” 

Drop in the bucket

In late August, federal health officials announced new regulations that require nursing homes to test all staff members for COVID-19. The administration also launched its point-of-care testing program, which involves distributing devices from Quidel and Becton Dickinson to every U.S. nursing home. 

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to distribute 750,000 Abbott BinaxNOW test kits to providers in areas with high COVID-19 positivity rates. HHS has also released about $10 billion from the Provider Relief Fund specifically for nursing homes.

“It really is still a drop in the bucket,” Katie Smith Sloan, LeadingAge president and CEO, said of Tuesday’s announcement.  

Three LeadingAge member nursing homes have closed during the pandemic and another is on the verge of closure, according to Sloan. She said aging services providers are now counting on Congress to come through for older adults now that lawmakers have reconvened and are expected to vote on the next coronavirus stimulus package in the coming days. 

“In recent weeks, the administration has finally begun taking a few welcomed steps to deliver resources to nursing homes but we are seven months into this pandemic and these are only a small, small fraction of what is needed to effectively care for nursing home residents,” Sloan said. 

“We are counting on Congress to come through for older adults.”