“If we don’t immediately begin universal testing of nursing home staff and residents immediately, COVID will eventually be in nearly every nursing home in the country where COVID is present in the surrounding community,” warned Harvard Health Policy Professor David Grabowski in testimony to Congress today.
He stressed by the time any staff member or resident develops symptoms of the ailment, it is too late.
Nursing homes are especially vulnerable to Covid-19, the Harvard professor explained, because residents are typically older adults with high levels of chronic illness and impairment and caregivers move from room-to-room (and sometimes from nursing home-to-nursing home) providing high-touch care to residents, thus providing a further challenge towards limiting the spread of infections.
One of the barriers to universal nursing home testing, Grabowski said, is federal agencies are giving conflicting advice:
“(The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services), the oversight agency, wants nursing homes to test workers weekly, but has not made it a requirement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, has said that facilities can adjust how often they test workers based on the local prevalence of coronavirus.”
The Harvard researcher cautioned without universal testing nursing home workers have no idea what they are facing when they come to work each day.
Along with universal testing, the expert said Nursing home staffers need access to personal protective equipment (PPE) like gowns, gloves, and masks.
However, often nursing homes with PPE are reusing supplies while some do not have access to the strongly protective N95 masks and have to rely on lower-grade alternatives, he pointed out.
Grabowski said because of the lack of PPE and testing, most nursing homes have been closed to family members since March even though there is no reason that family
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cannot be tested and trained in the protective devices the same way that as staffers are.
“Nursing homes function better when family are involved in the care of their loved ones. Our research has supported the idea that care improves when a family member visits,” he noted.
In addition to universal testing and universal availability of high-quality PPE, nursing home care could be improved by a robust strategy to attack the critical shortage of workers at the facilities by quickly matching unemployed workers to the job openings and to continue to develop a pipeline of trained staffers said Grabowski.
He added the nation will not have a complete record of all coronavirus cases and fatalities at nursing homes because the facilities were not mandated to report them to the federal government until May 8.
Grabowski’s remarks came in a prepared statement to the House Ways and Means Committee.