It’s time to help nursing homes

More PPE, more testing, and call in the National Guard

IT IS IMPORTANT for the Commonwealth to realize that our most vulnerable residents remain at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, without the necessary resources to stay protected. Though nursing homes were the first group to sound the alarm on COVID-19 risks for the most vulnerable population, there was, and continues to be, limited guidance for these facilities from the state. We cannot ignore the needs of our nursing homes at this time of crisis. Immediate action is required to protect and properly care for all nursing home residents.

Since the beginning, the priority of nursing homes and their staff has been to protect residents and prevent a COVID-19 outbreak within their facilities. However, nursing homes are now expected to admit COVID-19 positive patients into their facilities, challenging the ability to maintain healthy residents and staff. It is alarming to demand long-term facilities to admit COVID-19 positive hospital discharges without ensuring that nursing homes have the required resources to care for all residents. Isolation rooms; personal protective equipment or PPE; and appropriate staffing are the bare minimum required resources for the safe care of residents with COVID-19. These resources are vital in order to prevent the spread of the disease to other residents and staff.

Nursing homes have been struggling to meet PPE requirements. They have been forced to pay enormously high prices to secure minimal amounts of PPE because they have received so little from the national stockpile. Due to the lack of resources, and in order to keep employees and patients safe, facilities are resorting to making cloth masks for staff, securing any type of clothing covering they can (including garbage bags), using safety glasses for eye shields, etc. The incredible need for PPE will only increase for nursing homes. Consequently, this has led to staffing issues for there are many employees who are, understandably, reluctant to work without these resources.

Nursing homes continue to face challenges regarding timely COVID-19 testing results and locations to send employees for rapid testing. Anecdotally, we hear that hospitals have readily available testing for their employees in order to protect such employees and that some are testing twice a day. We heartily support this level of employee testing, but desperately need it in nursing homes to protect residents as well as employees.

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the staffing crisis in nursing homes as the number of nursing homes with COVID-19 positive cases grows. While the Baker administration announced that student nurses and other available health care workers can be employed to care for COVID-19 patients, we need to utilize the National Guard and its resources to support nursing homes during this time of crisis.

Nursing homes do not have the capability to isolate transferred patients because they have a small number of isolation rooms and limited areas to change into protective clothing. In an effort to prevent cross contamination between vulnerable individuals and potential carriers, hospitals must transfer patients to isolated facilities. With the assistance of the National Guard, we must use available locations, such as recently closed nursing homes, to serve as alternative COVID-19 recovery centers.

Meet the Author

James J O'Day

State Representative, Massachusetts House
It is time to help nursing homes. Families deserve peace of mind that we are doing everything we can to ensure their loved ones receive proper care in a safe environment. We need to move from criticism and unreasonable expectations, to actions that protect the fragile condition of our long term care system in the Commonwealth. The lives and safety of nursing home residents require our immediate help and support.

James J. O’Day is a state representative from Worcester, the 14th Worcester District.