Nursing homes are still facing challenges and changes due to coronavirus, as they aim to protect and provide care to the most vulnerable population. 

The latest: This week the Wolf Administration issued a universal testing order requiring all nursing homes to complete initial baseline COVID-19 testing no later than July 24.

“We appreciate that the Department of Health released definitive guidance on mandated testing to get a baseline and prevent further asymptomatic spread of COVID-19, which we know is critical for our long-term care facilities," commented Adam Marles, president and CEO of LeadingAge PA, an association representing more than 360 nonprofit providers of services for seniors.

"What the plan does not appear to do is provide the clear means for how our members are to make this happen," he added. "The Emergency CARES Act funding approved [at the end of May] provides relief for the costs long-term care facilities already incurred during the pandemic, but as new positive cases are confirmed through universal testing, the need for additional resources will grow. Staff replacement and additional costs for care for newly-identified positive cases will create a significant strain on providers.”

Due to the ongoing concern of coronavirus spreading in nursing homes and......, personal protective equipment (PPE) is still needed ...... Some PPE.....

That came after repeated requests for $290 million in emergency funding to support the need for PPE, test kits, and other critical resources for continued care for seniors.

In March, LeadingAge commended Wolf for $50 million for healthcare facilities and nursing homes for coronavirus-related needs

“Gov. Wolf took an important step toward helping Pennsylvania handle treatment of those who become ill with COVID-19,” said Marles. Without this support, he said, it would ultimately become impossible for facilities caring for senior citizens to obtain an adequate supply of medical masks, gowns and gloves.

LeadingAge PA and Pennsylvania Health Care Association had asked for a 3% increase in Medicaid rates to help achieve the requested $290 million. The organizations also requested the state government to provide and distribute emergency state or federal funding for skilled nursing and personal care homes/assisted living facilities to offer paid sick leave to all staff who have exhausted their sick leave benefits to avoid sick staff interacting with residents; and to immediately plan for how potential facility closures will be addressed and what extraordinary financial assistance might be offered to facilities to avoid closures.

By mid-May, Senate unanimously approved a $507 million emergency funding package to help facilities to invest in providing frontline help and PPE. The package included $449 million for long-term care, $50 million for Community HealthChoices and $8 million for Living Independence for the Elderly programs.

Also in mid-May, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services provided $237.9 million to nursing home facilities in PA. Marles responded at that time that LeadingAge members had seen extraordinary costs for PPE, staffing, testing, cleaning and disinfecting, and loss of revenues – so the funding would only help address a portion of the growing financial strains. A member, Presbyterian Senior Living, reported that in the month of April alone, the organization spent an additional $500,000 on PPE over and above what they typically spent each of the past two years.

Realizing the continuing needs of nursing homes, at the end of May, the House and Senate passed the state budget, including a $2.6 billion funding package for Emergency CARES Act to help support nursing facilities and long-term care providers. This funding provided much-needed financial support to providers in protecting and caring for staff and residents with limited support and resources.

Then, by early June, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law $500 million in emergency funds for long-term care facilities.

“We give our sincere thanks to Governor Wolf and the General Assembly for recognizing the extraordinary costs borne during this crisis by long-term care providers “, Marles said. “This is a great step in supporting all nursing facilities and long-term care providers across Pennsylvania.”

LeadingAge PA continues to advocate for liability protections of its members in nonprofit senior care, and a need to recommit to Medicaid funding at appropriate levels next year. Marles commented, “Years of flat funding have left nursing homes without an ability to make large-scale investments in the staff and care our older adults deserve.”

Adeena Harbst can be reached at aharbst@thedailyherald.net.

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