If your skilled nursing facility received a $1 million grant for infrastructure improvements related to COVID-19 mitigation, would you know how to use it?

Aldersbridge Communities CEO Richard Gamache wants SNF operators to ask themselves that question before undergoing the extensive grant application process.

“Take the time to dream about what you could do if you had the money. Then you have an idea when opportunity knocks,” he says.

Opportunity presented itself to Aldersbridge’s Linn Health & Rehabilitation in East Providence, RI, with the $1 million infusion of federal and state grants meant to help long-term care providers add infrastructure to combat the spread of COVID-19. Initiated by the federal CARES Act, the Rhode Island Long-Term Services and Supports Resiliency Program distributed grants to eight state facilities.

Linn Health & Rehabilitation’s work plan calls for transforming 11 skilled nursing and long-term care rooms from semi-private to private, each equipped with the latest in ventilation, lighting and technology for infection control, and an en suite private bathroom with shower. The renovated rooms could be used as a potential isolation unit, if needed.

The COVID-19 mitigation effort also extends to the air filtration system, which is being upgraded to improve air flow, air purity and decontamination efforts.

“Nursing homes like ours were built in the 1970s and haven’t changed much architecturally over the years,” Gamache says. “Our residents are most susceptible to illness and viral spread, yet they often share rooms and washrooms in institutional settings – the worst possible environment for the spread of disease.”

The grant process

Gamache saw the grant as a way to “reset” on COVID-19.

“When the state announced the grants, we jumped all over it,” he says. “Volume census has taken a huge hit, and it won’t come back. People will go to any extreme to avoid a SNF.”

Converting shared rooms to private brings skilled nursing design out of the past and into a safer, more appealing present, Gamache says. Still, he advises anyone considering applying to prepare for a detailed, arduous and complicated process.

“Our application was 93 pages long and very detailed in financial pro formas and physical plant estimates,” he says, noting the state also holds monthly conference calls to discuss progress with recipients.

Gamache emphasizes his vision was there before the money — an important facet due to the strict criteria, close supervision and short deadlines imposed by sponsors.

“Admittedly, dreaming about what could be is a luxury in a business that is just trying to survive from month to month,” he says. “But it is imperative to step back, get the proper perspective and determine how to spend the money before going out and asking for it.”