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Indiana nursing homes await testing machines from federal government as mandate looms

Posted at 1:50 PM, Aug 11, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS — Nursing home facilities in Indiana are eagerly awaiting COVID-19 testing machines from the federal government meant to curb the spread of the virus within long-term care facilities.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on July 22 it would mandate weekly testing in states that have greater than 5% positive, which Indiana currently has, however that regulation has not yet been published.

More than 15,000 testing devices will be deployed over the next few months to help support this mandate, according to CMS.

So far, 22 Indiana nursing homes have received or will soon receive the testing platforms and FDA-authorized antigen diagnostic tests including Otterbein Franklin Senior Life in Franklin, Eagle Creek Healthcare Center in Indianapolis, and Rosewalk Village at Lafayette.

“Frequent testing, even weekly, can only be possible if the testing capacity increases dramatically,” said Zach Cattell, president of Indiana Health Care Association, which represents long term care facilities. “Indiana facilities are not waiting and continue to procure testing on their own in order to protect residents.”

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says facilities in epidemiological hot spot counties will get first priority, however, no Indiana counties are on the list.

Indiana’s long term care facilities have been hit hard by COVID-19.

The latest numbers show 1,903 residents at long term care facilities have died from COVID-19 and 13 employees have died as well —that’s 68% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.

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According to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, since July 26, there are 33 states including Indiana with a positive test rate of over five percent, underscoring the urgent need for increased testing to keep the virus from spreading.

“Governors and state health agencies, especially in these 33 states, need to take immediate action to protect our seniors and health care heroes by ensuring long term facilities have adequate supplies of PPE (including N95 masks) and staff support as well as facilitating expedited test results for our residents and caregivers,” said Mark Parkinson, President and CEO, American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL). “We also need members of the public to do their part to help reduce spread by wearing a mask in public and continuing to practice social distancing. We all have a duty to defend our nation’s greatest generation and their essential caregivers.”

Call 6 Investigates contacted CMS, which said the federal agency will be issuing rules soon that require nursing homes in states with a 5 percent positivity rate or higher to test their staff and all visitors to minimize the possibility that the virus gains a foothold inside the nursing home.

“Prior to this, CMS strongly encouraged nursing homes to test their staff regularly and to administer baseline tests on residents,” read the CMS statement. “We also urged governors to prioritize testing in nursing homes. We supported their efforts by increasing Medicare reimbursements to labs so they can conduct tests inside the nursing home or collect samples from the nursing home.”

Five billion dollars will be allocated from the Provider Relief Fund in the CARES Act for nursing homes participating in Medicare and Medicaid, according to CMS, and could be used to hire additional staff, increase testing and improve technology so residents can connect with their families.

WRTV also reached out to HHS, which directed us to list of frequently asked questions about testing devices to be deployed in nursing homes throughout the country.

Nursing home operator American Senior Communities released the following statement:

Like so many long term care providers around the world, American Senior Communities (ASC) continue to manage the severe impact caused by COVID-19 and remains focused on our top priority: the health and safety of residents and employees.

On July 31, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) informed three of our communities – Riverside Village (Elkhart), Heritage Park (Ft. Wayne) and Rosewalk Village of Lafayette – they would be receiving Point of Care machines and tests. HHS communication did not indicate which model would be sent or the specific reason(s) for the communities being selected.

ASC are pleased to be part of the early implementation of Point of Care Testing and are working on new protocols to support the training and utilization of these tests. This new testing, in conjunction with our current testing strategy, screenings and assessments, allows us to further enhance our ability to quickly identify positive cases and implement isolation protocols. Early detection of the virus is imperative to reducing the exposure risk to other residents and to staff.

Uniquely and early on, ASC created its own testing strike team, which includes nurses from ASC and Eskenazi Health. We are collaborating with the IU Health Lab, which is providing test kits and rapidly reading the results. This strategy enhances our ability to quickly identify positive cases and implement isolation protocols. Early detection of the virus is imperative to reducing the exposure risk to other residents and to staff. ASC tested 100% of residents in facilities located in high-risk regions, even those with no known COVID-19 contact. During the month of June, ASC tested all employees in accordance with direction from ISDH and are in the process of testing them again throughout August and September.

From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ASC have sought to be ahead of the curve, implementing safety and infection control procedures prior to guidelines issued by the CDC and ISDH. HHC and ASC continue to go beyond these recommendations for clinical care and are:
  • Utilizing recovery strategies based on CDC guidelines to identify residents who are no longer contagious and to release them from isolation.
  • Screening each resident for illness daily.
  • Screening and taking the temperature of all staff, clinical partners, vendors and all others as they enter our communities.
  • Requiring all staff to wear PPE at all times.
  • Canceling all large group activities.
  • Exercising best practices for infection control.
  • Quarantining and cohorting residents and staff who are COVID-19 positive.
  • Requiring all residents to wear masks if they are able to tolerate it while outside of their room, and in their room when a staff member or visitor is present.
Given the unprecedented critical needs of our residents during this pandemic, ASC enhanced standard infection control protocols and trained staff on COVID-19-specific infection control protocols.

We are deeply saddened whenever a resident or staff member becomes infected, and we grieve for each resident who has passed away. As residents begin to recover, we remain steadfast in protecting and continuing to serve them.

We are deeply committed to doing our very best to keep this virus out of those facilities. We are also grateful for our dedicated employees and are in awe of the deep commitment and compassion they bring every day. They are truly heroes.