Nursing home residents are among the most vulnerable populations when it comes to the spread of viruses and other illnesses. This is one of the reasons as to why so many facilities were hit hard when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The majority of facilities were not prepared for the outbreak, which has led to a high number of cases and fatalities across the state and nation.
In an attempt to reduce further spread of the coronavirus, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has ordered in-state nursing homes to administer universal COVID-19 testing.
Universal COVID-19 Testing in PA Nursing Homes
On June 9, the Wolf Administration issued a universal testing order for all nursing homes. The requirements are as follows:
- Skilled nursing facilities in the Commonwealth must test residents and staff for COVID-19.
- Facilities need to meet the Department’s Facility Testing Requirements and any future modifications of those requirements.
- The first round of testing, which must include residents and staff, has to be completed no later than July 24.
- The specimens that are collected will be tested for COVID-19 in a laboratory that the State Public Health Laboratory approved or, if they have prior Department approval, to the State Public Health Laboratory.
- Skilled nursing facilities need to report individual COVID-19 tests and meet other metrics set in the Facility Testing Requirements unless stated otherwise.
- Each nursing facility has to notify the Department when the initial tests of residents and staff are completed. This notification needs to be within 48 hours of the facility’s receipt of the test results. If there was universal testing done prior to the Order, those results need to be reported within 72 hours of the Department’s issuance of the Order.
- If a skilled nursing facility needs assistance meeting the Facility Testing Requirements, they’ll notify the Department.
- Residents and staff still have the right to refuse testing. The Order cannot be used to stop a resident or staff member from refusing the test. If there is a lack of consent for the test, the Facility Testing Requirements give further information on how to handle the situation.
With these rules in place, nursing homes may be able to catch COVID-19 in residents and staff quickly—and also identify asymptomatic people who aren’t aware they’re contagious. Following these rules may also help protect residents and staff from a future outbreak of COVID-19 and help facilities be more prepared for other widespread diseases.
Additional Mitigation Tasks Are Needed
While there are definite benefits to the order for universal testing, it’s important to recognize that more could and should be done to protect nursing home residents. For example, residents should be tested on a weekly basis. Just because someone initially tests negative does not mean they will continue to test negative—especially if COVID-19 is already in the facility.
In addition to that, staff members should be tested twice a week. While facilities can isolate residents, nursing homes do not have the resources to designate a singular care person or nurse to each resident. That means that staff members are at constant risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to others quickly.
Testing staff members twice a week is only valuable if all staff members have access to personal protective equipment (PPE). Depending on the situation, adequate protection could include gloves, gowns, and face masks. Residents should also have access to PPE. Without proper PPE, increased testing will only result in more positive cases.
When COVID-19 tests do come back positive, facilities should be taking proper isolation measures to separate COVID-negative residents from COVID-positive residents. It’s also important for facilities to conduct contract tracing in an effort to discover the chain of infection.
While the measures discussed above may be able to reduce future infection rates, it’s possible infections and fatalities could have been prevented if nursing homes had been prepared for an outbreak like COVID-19. In response to the inadequate mitigation of the virus, a complaint has been filed against the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
If your loved one contracted COVID-19 in their nursing home facility, a Philadelphia nursing home abuse lawyer from Shrager & Sachs can review the situation and determine if legal recourse is available. Contact us today for more information.