(The Center Square) – Long-term care facilities in North Carolina are facing an uphill battle as they tackle COVID-19 and a lack of staff and resources, advocates said.
Members of the North Carolina Assisted Living Association (NCALA) told lawmakers Thursday they are concerned about retaining staff, residents’ well-being and the financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic.
They believe rapid testing and designating a facility to treat residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 could help curb outbreaks.
“If we can provide fast and efficient testing, along with alternate facilities for COVID-positive patients, we can better protect our elderly,” Chris Parker, owner of assisted-living community Vienna Village, told members of the House Select Committee on COVID-19's Subcommittee on Health Care.
“Right now, most of them are having to isolate in their rooms, as much as possible,” Parker said. “This is having both physical and mental effects that cannot continue indefinitely.”
Long-term care facilities have been hit especially hard as residents fall into two major at-risk categories: elderly and underlying medical conditions that compromise their immune systems.
Nearly 60 percent of COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina are linked to long-term care facilities, according to the latest number’s available from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). Out of 618 COVID-19 deaths reported Tuesday, 365 were connected to nursing homes and residential living communities.
In addition to delegating a site to treat COVID-19-positive residents, NCALA members asked lawmakers to help match unemployment wages and offer hazard pay to workers. They also would like group testing to prevent positive residents from being stigmatized.
Frances Messer, NCALA president and CEO, said residents need more COVID-19 education, training activities and technology to maintain social interaction during isolation. She also wants the state to provide aid for cleaning supplies and other equipment needed to maintain social distancing requirements.
It is unclear how much NCALA’s requests would cost, but Marc Maready, chief operations officer for assisted-living community Ridge Care, said his facility has spent $168,000 since March 1 on coronavirus supplies.
Parker said he would like to see NCDHHS, long-term care communities and local hospitals collaborate to secure a quarantine site.
“Doing nothing would be knowingly sending sick, contagious patients into a space with elderly patients who can quickly succumb to this virus and then hoping that a highly infectious disease will not spread.”
NCDHHS is offering additional Medicaid funding and hardship advances to nursing and adult care homes to address cash flow problems and intensive care, according to representatives.
The department has launched a statewide program to conduct remote infection prevention and control training for long-term care staff. The state also has formed a partnership with the East Carolina University School of Nursing to match nurses with facilities.
Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday the state is planning to send personal protective equipment packages to long-term care facilities this week.
Members of the subcommittee will use testimony from NCALA as they consider legislation for when General Assembly reconvenes Monday.