Nursing home testing carries $22 million price tag

In this April 17 photo, a vial used to collect a nose swab sample is put into a collection bag as members of a team of University of Washington medical providers conduct coronavirus testing at a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle. According to a nursing home trade group, it would cost $22 million to test every resident and staff member in Pennsylvania’s 695 nursing homes.

HARRISBURG — It would cost $22 million to test every resident and staff member in the state’s 695 nursing homes, according to an analysis by the American Health Care Association, a trade group representing nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced last week that the state plans universal coronavirus testing in nursing home as part of the state’s plan for reining in the deadly spread of the disease in long-term care facilities across the state.

About 67 percent of the 4,767 deaths blamed on coronavirus in Pennsylvania have involved residents of long-term care facilities.

The ACHA estimated that there are 75,847 people living in nursing homes and another 72,350 people working in them. Based on the association's estimates, Pennsylvania's testing costs would be sixth-most in the U.S., trailing California, New York, Texas, Florida and Ohio.

The Department of Health has also not provided a clear explanation for how the universal testing plan is supposed to work, representatives of trade groups said Wednesday.

Levine told reporters last week that the state intends to test every resident once and then determine how often to re-test them based on whether coronavirus is detected in the facilities where they live.

"To date, the Department of Health has not mandated testing in any long-term care setting, they have only provided guidance on how it might be done,” said Adam Marles, president and CEO of LeadingAge, which represents nonprofit long-term care facilities. “There has been no mention of any funding to support this testing, and the state has provided no financial support to nursing or personal care homes since the start of this crisis despite multiple requests.”

Gov. Tom Wolf, on a call with reporters Wednesday, reiterated that the state intends to conduct universal testing in its nursing homes.

“We have a plan in place and we’re following CDC guidelines,” he said. “We will test every employee and patient.”

Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association said the nursing home industry has been lobbying for universal testing. Most nursing home residents are covered by Medicaid, so the cost of testing for those residents would be covered by that program. The state or federal government should be covering the cost of testing the remaining residents and staff, he said.

In West Virginia, the state has agreed to cover the cost of the first round of testing for residents, he said.

Shamberg said his group is working with nursing homes to establish best practices for how to conduct testing if the state doesn’t provide clearer guidance.

“It’s sad we’re at that point,” he said.

CNHI PA State Reporter

CNHI State Reporter John Finnerty covers the Pennsylvania Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com.

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