Testing for COVID-19 can be costly in long-term care facilities

Posted 5/29/20

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit long-term care facilities and the senior population the hardest, especially in Arizona, where over 77% of deaths are in people 65+. In addition, deaths in long-term care …

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Testing for COVID-19 can be costly in long-term care facilities

Posted

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit long-term care facilities and the senior population the hardest, especially in Arizona, where over 77% of deaths are in people 65+. In addition, deaths in long-term care facilities in Maricopa County account for over 70% of the county’s total.

And while state and county health officials are not releasing the names of facilities that have cases, the cost of testing residents and staff in the U.S. is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living recently released a report showing the combined cost for COVID-19 testing of every resident and staff of assisted living communities and nursing homes in the United States.

In Arizona, that cost is $10.6 million. In the nation, it’s over $672 million — $440 million for nursing homes and $232 million for assisted living. The total cost assumes each test is $150.

According to the AHCA and NCAL, ongoing testing carries unsustainable costs without continued support from federal and state governments.

“For months now, we have been advocating for expanded and priority testing in long-term care facilities to protect our residents and caregivers, but this is a significant undertaking and cost for them to shoulder on their own,” stated Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of American Health Care Association and National Center of Assisted Living. “Assisted living communities have yet to receive any direct aid, despite also serving vulnerable seniors. While building on support received from HHS, we are asking for additional consideration for all long-term care facilities, whether it be in regard to additional testing, personal protective equipment, or funding.”

His statement comes on the heels of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announcing $4.9 billion in funding to help skilled nursing facilities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. But there are stark differences between nursing homes and assisted living facilities, both which fall under long-term care facilities.

Generally, assisted living communities offer person-centered care to individuals who need some assistance with activities of daily living, but who do not require round-the-clock skilled nursing care, like those residing in nursing centers. Arizona has a higher per capita of assisted living facilities (9th in the nation) than nursing homes (28th), according to the report.

Many nursing homes are also known as skilled nursing rehabilitation centers, meaning they offer therapy to individuals following a hospital stay to help them return to the community.

And while assisted living communities may offer some therapy services on-site, they focus more on offering a home-like, long-term care environment that maximizes independence.

“We need everyone around the country to rally around nursing homes and assisted living communities the same way they have around hospitals,” Mr. Parkinson stated. “We will continue to work with local, state and federal health officials to take every possible step to keep our nation’s long term care residents and staff safe.”

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced in mid-May an accelerated plan to test all staff and residents of long-term care facilities and individuals within the state’s prisons. As part of the plan, the Arizona Department of Health Services is partnering with private-sector labs to expand testing to 147 long-term care facilities and provide antibody tests for correctional officers.

The state still isn’t providing names of affected long-term care facilities, which has become the subject of a lawsuit by multiple media outlets in the Valley. A judge ruled against those outlets Friday.

Some facilities, like Glencroft Center for Modern Aging in Glendale, are providing their own daily updates on case/death counts. As of Thursday, there were 60 active people on campus with COVID-19. In addition, 105 others have recovered while 28 have died.

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health on Friday reported 1,312 cases and 284 deaths among residents in long-term care facilities. Staff counts are 678 cases and three deaths.

The federal government has said over 15,000 nursing homes will report COVID-19 case and death counts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and then the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will post that data for the public to access. Data on these facilities were expected to be available by late May. As of press time Friday afternoon, those numbers had not been released.

“With seniors among those most susceptible to the virus, the assisted living profession, in particular, is facing historic challenges when it comes to our most sacred charge — the health and safety of our residents,” stated Scott Tittle, Executive Director of the National Center for Assisted Living. “Unfortunately, shortages of testing and PPE continue to be a challenge nationwide and because assisted living communities are not medical facilities, they have not been prioritized for testing or supplies. We encourage our elected leaders to prioritize our most vulnerable and those who care for them in long-term care settings as they allocate these critical resources.”

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