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Nursing homes and other aging services providers across the US can now access free COVID-19 test kits through an expanded partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services and LeadingAge.

The nonprofit aging services organization initially launched the service Dec. 22, designing it to assist providers of affordable seniors housing amid a surge of COVID and other respiratory viruses and the holiday season.

But the collaboration quickly expanded to include free rapid tests for other provider types, starting Jan. 5. Operators can request the free kits weekly, even if they are not LeadingAge members or nonprofit providers.

The expansion comes as federal regulators push the use of therapeutics, which require accurate COVID diagnosis before prescriptions can be written. Both HHS and the White House have reported “a good supply of test kits,” a LeadingAge spokeswoman said, and a portal designed for requests indicates organizations can receive as many as 90,000 shipped to one address.

“Regular testing is an important component to remaining free of illness,” Thomas Tsai, MD testing and treatment coordinator on the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team said as the initiative launched last month.

“The COVID testing portal is a vital resource that will help to alleviate residents’ [and providers’] challenges with test access and payment, and also protect them and their communities against serious illness and viral spread this winter.”

Although Medicare reimburses for the cost of COVID testing, nursing home providers have at times reported challenges obtaining them locally or through their pharmacy partners. In addition to testing residents and staff with symptoms or after potential exposure, some nursing homes have also begun to offer testing to visitors again.

This program seeks to ease increasing demand by delivering tests on an as-needed basis.

“Requests will be submitted on a weekly basis, so providers can submit regular continual requests rather than ask for a bunch up front,” the LeadingAge spokeswoman said. 

Leaders at HHS and LeadingAge began to conceptualize the program “months ago,” when the White House asked LeadingAge to consult on COVID testing in nursing homes.

“Our national team strives to support members’ efforts to serve residents — our work in this project is a perfect example,” Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge said in a statement announcing the initial launch.

The program has no announced end date, and providers are encouraged to make regular requests so their supplies do not expire.