Alabama nursing homes seek priority for COVID-19 testing, resources

Updated: Apr. 8, 2020 at 6:38 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - It’s a critical time for Alabama nursing homes. They’re working to protect the most vulnerable without needed resources.

“We’ve had members from across the state, whether it’s north, south east or west, contact us saying they’re having difficulty obtaining test or they may want a very large number of tests that can go ahead and test every resident and every employee at one time and they may get a half or a third of the request of the test they request,” stated Alabama Nursing Home Association Communications Director John Matson.

Blanket testing would go a long way in protecting residents from asymptomatic exposure, which has been a critical issue for nursing homes across the country. For those who are able to test residents individually, it could be a week or more before the lab can turn around those results. During that testing backlog the resident must be isolated and treated as though they are COVID-19 positive, which requires health care providers to use highly sought-after personal protective gear.

“This is something where we have zero control, yet it places all of our employees and residents at great risk,” said Matson.

The testing backlog also creates staffing issues for the nursing homes.

“If you have an employee that exhibited some symptoms and is tested, that employee has to quarantine themselves for 14 days,” Matson explained. “If they’re waiting 10 to 11 days for a test to return and the test comes back negative, that employee could have been working most of those days.”

The CDC lists nursing homes as Priority 2 for testing and resources. The Alabama Nursing Home Association is advocating that they are moved up to Priority 1 to allow them to better protect their residents during this time.

“If they’re moved up in the priority, that gives them greater priority for receiving tests and then when those tests go to the lab, they receive processing priority at the lab too so we can get the results back quicker,” he said.

Some would argue the shortage of test kits and personal protective gear in facilities is influencing the state’s statistics. The Alabama Department of Public Health reports that 79 long-term care providers tested positive for COVID-19 along with 59 long-term care residents. Long-term care facilities include nursing homes and assisted living centers.

Matson confirms 31 member facilities across the state are reporting confirmed COVID-19 cases. One of those, Capitol Hill Health and Rehabilitation in Montgomery, which reported five confirmed cases on Tuesday.

State officials opened a toll-free number for people who develop symptoms and need to be tested. For more on how to get tested, you can call 1-888-264-2256. This is not a medical helpline.

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