Last year, state officials sought to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes with an aggressive testing plan for staff in the facilities.
Now, as COVID-19 positive cases decline, more people are vaccinated and pandemic guidelines are relaxed, a group that represents non-profit nursing homes in New York called on state officials to end weekly and twice-weekly testing for vaccinated and recently recovered nursing home and adult care facility staff.
The testing has created a layer of safety, but also a burden for the facilities as they grappled with the pandemic. At the same time, LeadingAge New York President James Clyne in a letter to Health Commissioner Howard Zucker pointed to the potential reduced testing would have to encourage vaccinate rates among nursing home staff.
“Eliminating serial testing for these personnel would create a strong incentive for hesitant staff to accept the vaccine and would align with the scientific research and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance," he wrote in the letter. "This would also avoid unnecessary furloughs of recovered staff who continue to test positive even though they are no longer infectious.”
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have become a focal point within the COVID-19 pandemic, with thousands of residents having died, underscoring the ease the virus can spread in a communal setting.
Residents of nursing homes across the country were among the first people to receive COVID-19 vaccinations at the end of last year, and the state was able to eventually relax its visitation rules for the facilities that had been in place for a year.
At the same time, the reporting of nursing home deaths and where residents died has become a controversy for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration, and a federal investigation is being conducted after Attorney General Letitia James's office found the state undercounted the overall fatalities of residents.
The Cuomo administration has blamed the asymptomatiac spread of the virus by facility staff and guests for the trouble in nursing homes amid an outcry over a March 25, 2020 guidance that barred nursing homes from turning away COVID positive patients discharged from hospitals.
Meanwhile, LeadingAge is also calling on state officials to ease reporting rules, including the frequence and volume of data collected from nursing homes, adult care facilities and certified home health agencies as well as hospice programs. Since March, the facilities have been required to provide daily that contain more than 100 peices of information ranging from total COVID-19 cases to personal protective equipment inventory levels, as well as vaccine dose updates.
“It is time for the state to follow CDC guidance on staff testing and reduce these costly and burdensome mandates so that caregivers can focus their attention on providing the best quality of life to their residents,” Clyne said.