HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania would have to boost its testing numbers several times over to meet Gov. Tom Wolf's goal of administering a weekly coronavirus test to well over 100,000 people in nearly 2,000 long-term care facilities across the state.
It's unclear who would administer the tests, who would supply them — and who would pay.
Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have struggled for months to contain the virus, with many lacking the trained staff, testing supplies and personal protective equipment, according to public health experts. Long-term care residents account for roughly two-thirds of the statewide death toll of more than 4,800.
The White House has strongly urged testing of all residents and staff at the nation's hard-hit nursing homes. On Wednesday, Wolf said his administration has a plan in place starting June 1 “that we will be testing every employee and every patient once a week.”
The Wolf administration has made no such plan public, and the numbers make clear that it would be a gigantic challenge.
More than 120,000 people live in nursing homes, assisted living centers and personal care homes regulated by the state, according to information from state agencies.
Add to that tens of thousands of employees at about 1,900 facilities, and the number of tests that Pennsylvania may have to figure out how to administer could be close to 200,000 a week, or more than 800,000 a month.
In the first three weeks of May, by contrast, Wolf’s Department of Health has reported receiving the results of about 140,000 tests statewide.
Dr. Jennifer Stephens, who helped launch a network of community testing centers as chief medical officer of Lehigh Valley Health Network’s physician group, cited numerous logistical and operational hurdles standing in the way of such a massive testing regime.
Long-term care facilities will need to have a sufficient and steady supply of tests, enough trained staff to administer them on a weekly basis, and a plan to deal with increased numbers of workers and residents who are positive for the virus, Stephens said Thursday, calling all of that a “heavy lift.”
The biggest bottleneck of all, she said, could be at the laboratories that process the tests, especially if businesses and other organizations start their own virus testing initiatives as the state's battered economy gradually reopens.
“I think the intent is really good and solid. I think the time frames are difficult,” Stephens said. “It’s not going to happen immediately. There’s no way for it to.”
Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, a nursing home trade organization, said it remains to be seen whether sufficient testing capacity exists in Pennsylvania.
And if nursing homes must pay for the testing, he said, the financial burden will fall on front-line providers that are already underfunded.