Costs of Mandatory COVID-19 Testing at Nursing Homes Stretching Facilities Thin

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DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Department of Public Health is reporting 50 COVID-19 outbreaks in Iowa’s long-term-care facilities, as of Friday. That’s nearly double the number of outbreaks in July.

While that number may look worrisome, the Iowa Health Care Association (IHCA) said it was inevitable to see a spike in cases once mandatory routine testing was required in late August.

“We are testing 600 percent more than we were two weeks ago. So that’s a very expected scenario. We expect that to level off here in the next couple of weeks, as this additional testing gets baked in,” President and CEO of the IHCA Brent Willett said.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has strengthened its requirements for routine testing of staff and residents at long term care facilities. Weekly testing is now the norm, but that comes at a cost.

IHCA said as a sector, they are burning through close to $3 million a week just trying to comply with this testing mandate. Luckily, at this time, many are able to make it work. The National Health Safety Board is reporting only about 5 percent of Iowa’s facilities say they are having trouble obtaining testing supplies.

“When we look at the total federal stimulus that nursing facilities in Iowa have received, and we project out how long essentially those funds are going to last, we are only confident until through the end of December,” Willett said. “Without further state and federal assistance, we’re going to run into a real challenge as we turn the corner on the year.”

Last week the Iowa Department of Public Health and the State Hygenic Lab said they will be unable to provide and process routine tests for Iowa’s long term care facility staff members for the purpose of complying with the CMS rule. However, they will still help when someone is symptomatic or when cases are identified.

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