Providers stressed the importance of testing and the need for additional support after the federal government laid out steps Monday for safely reopening nursing homes to visitors. 

“As we have said repeatedly, before we can open our doors again, the ability to test residents and staff in every long-term care facility is essential given the impact of this deadly virus on our vulnerable residents,” American Health Care Association CEO and President Mark Parkinson said. “[Monday’s] guidelines from CMS will help residents and staff in our long-term care facilities get access to testing across the country and ensure other key checkpoints are reached before long term care facilities fully re-open to visitors.”

The guidance, which was released late Monday afternoon by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, urges providers to conduct universal testing of both staff and residents before considering relaxing any visitation restrictions. It also asks surveyors to inspect nursing homes that have had significant COVID-19 outbreaks before reopening.

Parkinson called for more funding for testing. “Moving forward, it is vital that all long-term care facilities receive additional support and funding from state governments to conduct expanded testing,” he said. “We encourage governors to use the $11 billion that has been allocated to states for expanding testing in our nursing homes, assisted living communities and other long-term care facilities. States can also assist with logistical support in implementing such a large endeavor, with help from the National Guard or the state’s health department.”

More still needed

LeadingAge echoed the need for funding and resources but was less complimentary of the CMS guidance. Providers are still in desperate need for testing and personal protective equipment, which are necessary tools in order to make reopening possible, LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan noted. 

“The guidance from CMS is not grounded in these everyday realities of our members. We need a plan for testing. We need access to adequate testing supplies and PPE. And we need funding to make both of those possible for the brave people who care for vulnerable older adults day in and day out,” Sloan said. 

“Our members pay between $200,000 and $250,000 per week to test staff just twice a week. That’s $1 million dollars a month. Nursing homes need help from federal or state governments to cover these necessary costs. Today’s guidance delivers none of that,” she said. 

The organization called for additional help for aging services providers in order to make reopening plans a reality. 

“Like the administration, we too want to have a plan to safely reopen nursing homes, and we agree that testing is essential. The reality is that too many nursing homes and other aging services providers are still desperately in need of testing and [PPE], and we don’t know when or if it’s coming. We need these tools to make reopening possible,” Sloan added. 

Last week, the Trump administration urged states to universally test all nursing home residents and staff over the next several weeks.