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Nursing homes say more money needed for COVID-19 fight

Elder care facilities liken situation to Category 5 hurricane

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nursing homes on the front lines of the state’s battle with coronavirus infections say they won’t be able to afford to test staff members twice a month if Florida stops providing test kits in September or if Congress doesn’t provide additional funding soon.

“We don’t know what comes next if the state-funded testing ends in September. What we do know is that our members estimate costs between $25,000 and $300,000 per month for ongoing staff testing,” Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of the industry group LeadingAge Florida, said Monday as he called on U.S, Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott to help craft legislation that could offset long-term care providers’ increased overhead costs associated with the pandemic.

Bahmer, whose association represents nonprofit and community-based nursing homes, said if conditions don’t change, operating losses could total as high as $3 million a month for some long-term care facilities, and he likened the situation to a Category 5 hurricane.

“Like a hurricane, this much was predictable. We’ve known for months that seniors in long-term care settings have the greatest risk for the virus,” he said. “Not because of the failure on any part by providers but because older adults living together in these settings tend to have underlying conditions that make them more susceptible. But the storm is here. It’s gathering intensity, it’s putting enormous pressure on the providers who care for Florida’s most-vulnerable citizens.”

But Brian Lee, a former Florida long-term care ombudsman, said the industry constantly pushes for increased funding and that it already received additional money and loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

“That’s a broken record they are so used to saying that they believe it, and they want us to believe it,” Lee, director of Families for Better Care, an Austin, Texas-based advocacy group, said. “That’s not the truth. The truth is we’ve handed so much money to them with really no strings attached we don’t know what’s going to the testing or the staffing. We have no idea because families aren’t there, there’s limited inspection activity and ombudsmen aren’t there. … They don’t need additional bailouts.”

The state said Tuesday that 2,445 long-term care residents and staff members have died from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. Long-term care residents and staff account for nearly 47% of the 5,206 Florida residents who have died.

As Florida has dealt with an ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Ron DeSantis has pointed to mandates the state has imposed on nursing homes and hospitals to tamp down fatalities among seniors.

Long-term care providers were ordered to transfer to hospitals COVID-19 patients they couldn’t isolate or treat. And hospitals were banned from transferring residents back to long-term care facilities unless the residents had two negative tests within a 24-hour period, leading to congestion at hospitals. The DeSantis administration reversed that policy last week.

The administration also has contracted with nursing homes across the state that have agreed to act as receiving facilities for COVID-19 patients and told nursing homes to begin transferring patients to those receiving facilities, if possible, in lieu of hospitals.

The call for additional funds comes after the federal government announced last week that it was sending 2,000 rapid tests to nursing homes in COVID-19 hotspots. The rapid tests will come with one month’s worth of supplies, but the nursing homes will be responsible for purchasing the supplies needed for tests after that.

The federal government’s tests are different from tests being supplied for free by the state Agency for Health Care Administration.

AHCA has been providing testing kits to long-term care facilities since passing emergency rules that require the facilities to test staff twice a month. While the tests are provided for free now, the nursing- home industry worries that it might have to begin paying for the tests in September.

Additionally, the state-supplied tests are for staff members only. AHCA officials have told nursing homes and assisted living facilities that if residents need to be tested, the facilities should contact primary health care providers or coordinate with county health department officials.

Jay Solomon is the CEO of Aviva: A Campus for Senior Life in Sarasota, which offers independent and assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing and rehabilitation services. He receives testing assistance only for his skilled nursing and assisted living facility staff.

He said it would cost about $60,000 a month to test the staff members who work at the nursing home and assisted living facility if the state were to stop providing the tests. Those costs would double if residents were tested, Solomon said.

During a COVID-19 roundtable with hospitals on Tuesday, the governor said there were no plans to shift the costs of testing to the elder facilities.

“Where we’re doing every staff member every two weeks, and that’s going to keep on going. We’ve not put any limitation on that,” DeSantis said.

During the roundtable, Florida Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Moorhead told the governor there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“For over the last week, we’ve had a very significant plateau, which has been incredibly welcome,” Moorhead said.

The governor reiterated Tuesday that the state has sufficient hospital and intensive care beds to care for COVID-19 patients and anyone needing medical care.

Capitol News Service’s Mike Vasilinda contributed to this report.


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