Providers across the country are pleading with residents’ families and loved ones to find alternative ways to celebrate the upcoming holidays in order to prevent further disaster at nursing homes. 

“This is a plea. Nursing homes really are at the brink. We are at the brink,” said Deke Cateau, CEO of Atlanta-based nursing home operator A.G. Rhodes. 

“We are at our financial brink, we are at our operational brink, and quite frankly, we are at our emotional brink. I want this holiday, in particular, for the community to understand that while we cannot do everything we would like to do, we are going to do our best to make it a joyous holiday season,” he added. 

Cateau’s comments came during a press briefing Monday hosted by LeadingAge. The organization issued an open letter to Americans warning them about the risks Thanksgiving gatherings pose to older adults and long-term care.

The plea comes as the COVID-19 death toll approaches 100,000 in long-term care settings and cases are surging nationwide. The latest data from the American Health Care Association revealed that confirmed weekly cases in nursing homes reached more than 12,400 during the week of Nov. 8, and have steadily risen since mid-September.

“We all want to be together, and we would open if we could, but right now it’s just simply too dangerous. We’re not willing to take that chance,” explained Julie Thorson, president and CEO of Friendship Haven in Fort Dodge, IA, and McKnight’sLiving Leadership” expert columnist. 

Cateau noted that holiday seasons are normally filled with lots of visitors, volunteers and different activities for residents to enjoy. Without them, the pandemic has forced providers to be creative in how to make the holiday meaningful. That has included increasing virtual visits and calls, and asking the community to send residents letters. 

“We are pleading to a lot of our families to please try not to visit. This a community issue and the community spread is so great. Even within our organization, the spread differs from home to home,” he said. “We’re going to make the best out of this bad situation.” 

LeadingAge Wisconsin President and CEO John Sauer added that providers are begging for the public to take on this responsibility because the “COVID numbers are surging exponentially and now is the time for us to act collectively.” 

“It’s the humane thing to do,” he said. 

Financial implications 

Providers also express concerns about their ability to sustain operations with the current pace of spending. Both Thorson and Cateau explained that between higher wages for employees, additional equipment and testing costs and occupancy losses it may be tough for operators to survive. 

“We’re making it work but my concern as we put together our 2021 operator plan [is] how long and what are we going to need to sustain that,” Thorson said. 

“I just honestly don’t know how long we can sustain these losses in revenue.” 

Sauer noted that financial troubles have plagued Wisconsin facilities for a long time and reported that more than 40 facilities have closed within the last four years — with about a dozen them closing in the last two years. He added that one provider recently reported its budget is over by about $1.8 million for the year. 

“That’s not an uncommon story unfortunately. That’s the reality and that’s why we’re pleading for some sustained funding to get us through the pandemic and then beyond,” he said. “I think without a doubt — unless there’s some further commitment from our Medicaid program in particular — we’re going to see many facilities fail in 2021.”