Nursing home funding boosted, but is it enough?
Investment comes amid ominous COVID-19 signs
AMID OMINOUS REPORTS on COVID-19 tests and deaths, the Baker administration on Wednesday promised to boost funding and support for the state’s struggling long-term care facilities, but a spokeswoman for the industry said the investment isn’t enough.
State figures released on Wednesday indicate the 530 COVID-19 deaths at long-term care facilities now represent nearly half (48 percent) of all COVID-19 fatalities in the state. The 86 new deaths at long-term care facilities reported Wednesday represented 57 percent of the 151 new deaths in the state.
The high positive test rate at long-term care facilities is also alarming. Gov. Charlie Baker said 4,500 tests for COVID-19 had been conducted by National Guard units at 264 facilities. Some facilities have also conducted tests on their own but it’s unclear how many.
Assuming 2,000 tests were conducted by the long-term care facilities themselves, that would be a total of 6,500 tests. According to state data released Wednesday, 3,907 people either working or living at long-term care facilities have tested positive. That number would be a whopping 60 percent of those tested. Statewide, only 22 percent of tests have come back positive.
The new money is in addition to $80 million previously announced — $50 million for all nursing home facilities and $30 million to build out dedicated standalone nursing facilities for COVID-19 patients. Most of the standalone facilities are currently shuttered nursing homes that are being reopened; the new standalone facilities are located in Brewster, Falmouth, New Bedford, East Longmeadow, and Great Barrington. Another existing home in Worcester is being repurposed to serve COVID-19 patients.
Baker and Sudders said they are also offering $1,000 signing bonuses to anyone who applies for a nursing home job through the state’s long-term care portal and agrees to work there for at least three months.
Baker and Sudders said nearly all of the money is repurposed Medicaid funds, which are supplied by the state and the federal government.
Tara Gregorio, the president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, issued a statement saying the industry is making progress working with the Baker administration on testing for COVID-19 and procuring personal protection equipment. But Gregorio said the industry is having a very difficult time retaining workers who are currently paid about $15.60 an hour as certified nursing assistants.Gregorio said 40 percent of nursing home positions are currently vacant, partly because of the low pay and partly because of fear of contracting COVID-19. “The only way we believe we can meaningfully begin to stabilize our staffing is for the state to provide a $130 million monthly investment to fund overtime costs, hiring of new staff, and double-time for ‘hero’s pay’ for our frontline staff, and ensure their safety through the consistent availability of PPE,” she said.
Industry officials say the governor’s $50 million investment in the nursing home industry represents $13 million a month for four months.