Federal plans to distribute nearly $5 billion to skilled nursing operators to help their COVID-19 response is a good start, but it may not be enough for providers to conduct necessary testing at facilities — a critical step toward reopening nursing homes — according to one of the nation’s largest nursing home chains. 

“We are very appreciative of this grant, but we expect more will be needed for the industry, particularly to fulfill testing needs in certain hotspots through year-end. Providers’ needs will be very different based on their location and proximity to local virus prevalence,” Genesis HealthCare spokeswoman Lori Mayer told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News

The Department of Health and Human Services on Friday said it will distribute about $4.9 billion in federal funding to SNFs to help their COVID-19 response. Each SNF will receive $50,000, plus $2,500 for each licensed bed — meaning a facility with 120 licensed beds would receive $350,000.

The additional funding will be used to enhance wages for frontline caregivers, pay for additional personal protective equipment costs, and full-facility testing of residents and staff for SNF operators under Genesis Healthcare, Mayer explained. 

She added that it will also be used to pay for agency workers who fill in for current employees who are recovering from COVID-19, additional labor and supply costs to clean centers, temporary staff training, and additional food and dietary staffing costs for feeding all residents in their rooms. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced guidance for reopening nursing homes to visitors last week. It called for nursing home residents and staff to receive baseline COVID-19 test results before relaxing any restrictions or advancing through phases toward reopening.

“As to reopening for visitation, our first consideration is the safety of our residents. So, in order to do that, we need to study the community in which a center is located and assess that area’s current level of COVID activity, and work closely with local health officials to determine a plan,” Mayer said. 

“A key part of such plans involve the need to repeatedly test all of our residents and employees on an on-going basis, such as weekly as the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is recommending,” she added. 

The American Health Care Association recently revealed that just one round of testing every nursing home resident and staff member would cost about $440 million nationwide. Mayer noted that, using that figure, one month of testing will cost approximately $1.9B.

“That will require significant additional funding to pay for this volume of testing, and we need to ensure that the capacity exists to undertake this testing and provide timely results,” Mayer said. 

In other coronavirus-related news:

-At least half of states are not going to meet the White House’s deadline of today for testing nursing home residents and staff, an Associated Press report said Sunday. Two weeks ago today, Vice President Pence called for states to test nursing home residents and staff. Logistics, cost and manpower are the barriers to meeting the deadline, many states said, according to the news report. 

-Mark Parkinson, CEO of AHCA, emphasized the importance of testing to reopen nursing homes safely on Fox News Sunday. “The most important thing is we need to keep COVID down in the communities that the nursing homes are in,” he told news anchor Chris Wallace. He also said it’s important to have adequate testing to test every staff member and resident and, “ideally,” on-site testing this summer to test everyone entering nursing homes.

-In brighter COVID-19 news, longtime instrumental music composer Dave Combs is working to provide his soothing music videos free to long-term care facilities. The following link offers his extensive YouTube playlist.