Nursing homes in the area reeling from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are being asked to ramp up testing on their employees.
All nursing homes are responsible for conducting twice-weekly COVID-19 testing on their workers beginning next week, according to an executive order signed May 7 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Nursing homes are scrambling to meet the new mandate, Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said Wednesday. Mabb expressed doubt that the facilities would be able to meet the standards set forth by the state.
Greene County Public Health Director Kimberly Kaplan did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the state’s new testing policy.
The governor’s order comes after months of limited testing capacity caused by supply chain breakdowns, which public officials say hampered their ability to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Nursing home operators, not the state, are responsible for buying kits and carrying out the twice-weekly testing, health officials said.
The testing mandate will be “logistically challenging and quite expensive,” said Geoff Thompson, spokesman for Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Philmont, the site of the first major COVID-19 outbreak in Columbia County.
Pine Haven and Greene Meadows Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Catskill, which are owned by the same company, will each receive minimally invasive oral swab tests that provide results in 24 to 72 hours, Thompson said.
The lag time means nursing homes may be getting results from prior tests at the same time they are due to test again, Thompson said.
Greene Meadows employees will submit to the oral swab testing beginning next week in accordance with the state regulations, Greene Meadows Administrator John Edwards said.
“The [employees] understand it is regulatory and they are OK with it,” Edwards said. “It is not the nasal swab where they are basically poking your brain and it hurts. This is just an oral swab that is painless and they want to do it so they can continue to provide great care for our residents.”
Full-time Greene Meadows employees will be tested twice weekly and part-time employees will be tested once a week. The facility has 125 employees, Edwards said.
Nursing home operators are expected to shoulder the cost of testing their employees, but counties may make some testing kits available to nursing homes to comply with the state mandate.
The Columbia County Department of Health is distributing a shipment of 1,080 testing kits to nursing homes for staff testing, Mabb said.
Mabb said the volume of testing kits required, combined with the high demand for kits, could present problems for nursing homes attempting to implement Cuomo’s mandate. Testing kits ordered by Columbia County took five weeks to arrive, he said.
In the absence of state funding or state-provided tests, nursing home operators could incur hefty costs.
Testing the 120 Pine Haven employees twice a week could cost the facility about $16,000 a month, said Thompson, whose calculations account for 120 employees tested using kits that cost about $16 each.
Nursing homes statewide were required to submit testing plans to the state Department of Health by Wednesday.
The Eliot at Catskill, which has 40 employees, submitted its plan for testing and is awaiting state approval, said Colleen Vincent, The Eliot’s executive director. The Department of Health requested information on the facilities’ number of employees and history of COVID-19 testing, Vincent said.
The Greene County Public Health Department previously conducted voluntary testing on employees of The Eliot, an assisted-living facility, but all tests came back negative, Vincent confirmed.
The Eliot will conduct all testing in-house using kits provided by the corporation that owns the facility, Vincent said.
“[The employees] are all not excited about getting tested, but they realize it is to protect the people that they care for,” she said. “They do have the option if they choose not to, but it is required for employees.”
Cuomo has previously said that any nursing home worker who refuses testing could lose their job.
Nora Mishanec is a reporter at Columbia-Greene Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 518-828-1616 ext. 2495.