American seniors are struggling today as a result of increased COVID-19 testing requirements. Recent survey results bear this out.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) published the results of a 2020 survey conducted between June 25 and June 29 of 1,385 long-term care facility staff members.

The survey focused on national results. It is by no means definitive. However, it offers insights into what is happening throughout the United States within assisted-living facilities.

The survey results are invaluable for Montana seniors, their families and staff who assist the elderly during the most challenging time in recent U.S. history for “vulnerable populations.”

U.S. Glimpse

• 56 percent of nursing homes and assisted living facilities are having issues with lab processing of tests.

• 87 percent of nursing homes and assisted living communities reported that getting results back from labs is taking two days or longer (63 percent: 2 to 4 days; and 24 percent – 5 days or more).

• 34 percent of nursing homes and assisted living facilities reported the costs of testing staff poses a major barrier.

Eastern Montana

“Due to how rural we are, I would say the percentage of five or more days is much larger,” stated MJ Marx, director of Quality for Glendive Medical Center facilities.

“Some of that is due to travel time to get the tests to the lab,” Marx said. “The state lab is approximately eight hours from Glendive. Timeliness of getting test results back is definitely a concern.”

Marx continued: “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires weekly testing of employees of nursing homes to be able to consider opening a nursing home to visitation. We are complying with that recommendation.”

However, Marx said it feels like staff are “just checking a box” because the facility is unable to receive COVID-19 test results back in a timely fashion.

Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, said the amount of time it is taking to receive testing results is hurting the ability of long-term facilities to fight the coronavirus.

“Regular testing of nursing home and assisted living staff is a vital step in controlling the spread of COVID-19 but is not effective without obtaining timely test results,” Parkinson stated.

“For nursing homes and assisted living communities to protect residents and staff, we need on-site testing with reliable and rapid results, ” he continued. “With a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases among the general population, we are concerned labs will get overwhelmed.”

The end-result, Parkinson said, is it will take long-term care residents and staff even more time to receive results for COVID-19 testing.

Kudos to Families

Glendive Medical Center’s Marx stated: “We have been very fortunate in Dawson County. We had eight positive cases that have since recovered, and were in a cluster that did not affect many others. The survey references that the surrounding community at large impacts the nursing home and assisted living’s ability to combat this virus and keep the residents safe.

“Here in Dawson County we have done a phenomenal job of keeping our nursing home and assisted living residents safe,” Marx continued. “Kudos to the families who have weathered this storm with us, our staff being conscientious, and the residents tolerating all of this as well.”

Congressional Action

Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines recently introduced legislation in Congress to assist senior care facilities. The Emergency Support for Nursing Homes and Elder Justice Reform Act of 2020 supports the health and safety of Montana seniors during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m grateful for the important work being done by Montana’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities who care for and help keep our most vulnerable populations safe,” Daines declared in a press release announcing introduction of the legislation.

“This bill is critical to ensuring that our senior care facilities have the resources necessary to continue serving and keeping Montana’s seniors safe especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Daines stated.

Among other features, the bill provides Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing in nursing homes; promotes tele-visitation for nursing home residents; establishes surge teams to promptly respond to COVID–19-related crises in nursing homes that are overwhelmed by the pandemic; and promotes transparency about COVID–19-related fatalities and staffing levels in nursing homes.

Glendive Visitations

Although many nursing home and assisted living facilities have implemented video chats and window visits for their residents, a lack of in-person contact for nearly four months has left many residents distressed.

Glendive Medical Centers facilities approved a revised visitation policy that was fully implemented on July 7. It allows for a limited number of guests for each resident to see their loved ones in an open-air patio visit conducted with social-distancing and infection-control precautions in place.

“We are asking resident representatives to designate one or two essential visitors to participate, and the visits will be by appointment only,” stated Christy Kemp, administrator of Glendive Medical Centers Long-term Care facilities. “Compassionate visits will also continue and will include allowing for some family support for newly admitted residents.”

The news of the updated visitation order is out. A full schedule of patio visits is expected, and residents are anxious to review it. Not surprisingly, the loved ones of many residents have called to schedule visits.

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