Area nursing homes and adult-care centers began testing their employees for coronavirus this week amid warnings that the state’s testing mandate is not sustainable.
Many Greene and Columbia county nursing homes and assisted living facilities have conducted the first round of COVID-19 tests on their staff, as mandated by an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on May 10, which mandates testing twice weekly.
But officials warn that nursing facilities will need federal and state assistance to shoulder the financial and logistical burden of such frequent testing.
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, which represents more than 14,000 skilled nursing centers and assisted living communities nationwide, estimates that testing the state’s 143,000 nursing home employees once would carry a price tag of more than $20 million.
The FASNY Firemen’s Home in Hudson is tracking its testing expenses in anticipation of federal reimbursement, said Wayne Butts, president of the trustees of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York. The facility is a nonprofit supported by FASNY and private donations.
Testing is costly but necessary to protect the residents, Butts said, adding that none of the 74 residents, known as members, have tested positive for COVID-19.
But one Firemen’s Home employee has tested positive for the virus. The person is in quarantine and must test negative before returning to work, according to state regulations, said Butts.
The Firemen’s Home began testing its employees twice weekly with LabCorp on May 20. Testing is conducted every day due to the variability of employee schedules, said Acting Administrator Sherri Mier.
Ghent Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, formerly known as Whittier, has begun testing all employees on Mondays and Thursdays, said Administrator Frank K. Yeboah.
One employee, a housekeeper, has tested positive and 87 employees have tested negative for COVID-19. The housekeeper who tested positive, a resident of Greene County, did not provide direct care to residents and is now on quarantine, Yeboah said.
Ghent Nursing has contracted with BioReference Laboratories for the twice weekly testing of employees.
The facility previously came under fire from county health officials for its decision not to conduct a full testing of all residents. A total of 102 Ghent Nursing residents have tested negative for COVID-19 as of Thursday, according to Yeboah.
The state mandate ordering nursing homes to begin testing their employees came as the Cuomo administration faced increasing criticism for its handling of COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and adult care facilities.
Critics have blasted the governor’s slow response to the rising nursing home death toll and a recent Siena research poll of 800 registered voters found that nearly half are dissatisfied with Cuomo’s response to nursing homes.
Cuomo has said that any care worker who refuses testing could lose their job and any facility that fails to provide testing could face fines or the loss of its license.
But public officials, including Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, have questioned how the state can expect such rigorous testing amid supply chain shortages and overwhelmed laboratories.
Both Greene and Columbia county health departments have supplied testing kits to nursing homes over the course of the pandemic as supplies became available. But both counties lack the quantity of kits required to meet Cuomo’s mandate.
The state Department of Health is now sending testing kits directly to the state’s 619 nursing homes and 544 assisted living facilities, health officials confirmed.
Scott Tittle, executive director of the National Center for Assisted Living, called on elected leaders to allocate more resources to long-term care settings.
Assisted living communities have not been prioritized for testing or supplies because they are not considered medical facilities, Tittle said.
Nora Mishanec is a reporter at Columbia-Greene Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 518-828-1616 ext. 2500.