“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. It is too late by the time any staff member or resident develops symptoms. The Harvard researcher cautioned without universal testing nursing home workers have no idea what they are facing when they come to work each day. 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.”
Nursing home staffers need personal protective equipment (PPE) like gowns, gloves, and masks. However, many nursing homes are reusing supplies while some do not have access to the strongly protective N95 masks and have to rely on lower-grade alternatives.
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 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.