Coronavirus: Our skilled nursing facilities are crucial

An illustration of the functions of a skilled nursing facility. (Image: Kheng Guan Toh, via Shutterstock)

As the coronavirus pandemic progresses, it’s become increasingly evident that its most pervasive threat is to vulnerable older adults with underlying health conditions. In California, across America and around the world, the virus’ toll has been most severe in places where that population is concentrated.

It is equally evident that our response must be targeted at keeping those individuals safe.

County and state assistance remain necessary to address staffing shortages resulting from worker exposure to COVID-19.

Skilled nursing facilities in California are facing unprecedented challenges. While they fight to keep the virus out of their buildings, or contain it if it is present, the daily struggle of nursing facilities remains the same — to protect the lives and well-being of sick and vulnerable individuals who are most susceptible to COVID-19.

These outbreaks are not the result of inattentiveness or lapses in nursing homes. It’s a combination of the vicious nature of the virus and its unique threat to the very people who are in our care.

We must deploy county, state and federal resources to the skilled nursing sector and we applaud Gov. Gavin Newsom for his recent announcement that skilled nursing is moving up on the state’s priorities.

There is a continuing shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in many areas of the state. The lack of proper equipment puts employees and residents at risk and has been a contributing factor to outbreaks across the state.

We also need priority testing for all healthcare workers in long-term care settings to stop the spread of the virus.  Where tests are available, we have seen success in keeping COVID-19 out of buildings. In other cases, when the virus is identified early, testing has allowed patients and workers to be successfully isolated to prevent further spread. But even with the best infection prevention protocol in place, we can’t stop the infection from spreading without adequate PPE and testing.

We are indebted to every employee who selflessly continues to show up to work every day, sometimes at great personal risk, whether at a skilled nursing center or community-based home for the developmentally disabled. These workers are the only lifeline residents have to the outside world as they remain isolated from their families and loved ones.

County and state assistance remain necessary to address staffing shortages resulting from worker exposure to COVID-19.  Gov. Newsom’s initiative to retrain 600 nurses to support facility compliance with COVID-19 guidance and to assist facilities with positive cases is a good first step.

We can’t emphasize enough the importance of creating well-equipped, separate facilities or alternate sites to care for COVID-positive patients to keep the virus contained.

Early on, the California Association of Health Facilities opposed any requirement to transfer positive COVID-19 patients from the hospital to skilled nursing facilities. The result of state orders to nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients has played out in New York and New Jersey with devastating consequences.  We continue to work with our hospital partners and county and state agencies to address the critical need for alternate COVID-positive sites.

As many of our members shift from prevention to a containment strategy, they need assistance to provide the highest level of protection to their residents and staff.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) have issued waivers to offer relief to health care providers, employees and residents during the pandemic.

In addition, the Governor’s Office has coordinated efforts to assist. Included are  no-cost or low-cost hotel rooms for workers who have had possible exposure to COVID-19 or test positive for COVID-19 and do not need to be hospitalized.

Skilled nursing administrators, long-term care nurses and critical care workers are doing everything possible, with the resources that are available, to slow the spread of the virus in our member facilities. We remain committed to do everything we can to support their heroic and dedicated efforts on behalf of the 400,000 residents we serve.

Editor’s Note: Craig Cornett is President & CEO, of the California Association of Health Facilities, which represents 900 skilled nursing facilities and 450 intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities in the state.

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