Richmond Times-Dispatch: As virus spreads in Virginia long-term care facilities, push for aid intensifies

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, MICHAEL MARTZ

The escalating spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities in Virginia — and the deaths that accompany it — are intensifying the push for greater federal aid to help nursing homes and other facilities test more residents for the disease.

A skilled nursing facility in Herndon, a town in Fairfax County, this week confirmed 15 deaths from COVID-19 among 64 residents who have been confirmed with the virus. Fairfax County has surged to the most fatalities in Virginia with 124 dead by Wednesday morning and 32 outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

An assisted living facility in Chesterfield County confirmed its eighth death from the disease — the 19th COVID-19 death in the county, with four deaths in neighboring Colonial Heights, including at least two in a nursing home there.

And in Henrico County, second only to Fairfax County with 98 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, all but 11 were residents of nursing and other long-term care facilities.

“It should be no surprise to anyone at the local, state or federal level that there are significant [COVID-19] outbreaks in nursing facilities,” said Keith Hare, president and CEO of the Virginia Health Care Association and Virginia Center for Assisted Living.

State and national advocates for long-term care facilities called Wednesday for greater federal financial aid and support for expanded testing to identify and contain the virus’s spread among a frail and medically vulnerable population.

“We really feel as though to date the federal government has underfunded what nursing facilities need to fight the virus,” said Hare, a former deputy secretary of health and human resources under then-Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Nationally, the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living contended that long-term care facilities have not been priorities for testing, supplies of protective equipment and other resources, even though they have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic with more than 11,000 deaths in less than two months.

“Our profession has been sounding the alarm for weeks and weeks, but we have been largely forgotten by the public health sector,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the two national organizations, which represent 14,000 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across the country. “If we are not made a top priority, this situation will get worse with the most vulnerable in our society being lost.”

In Virginia, long-term care facilities — nursing homes, assisted living and memory care units — accounted for 116 of the 206 COVID-19 outbreaks of two or more cases. Those outbreaks accounted for 1,407 confirmed cases and 111 deaths, although those figures appear to significantly lag the results the facilities have reported.

Henrico alone has confirmed 87 deaths, including 49 at Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center.

“In central Virginia, COVID-19 continues to cause heartbreaking tragedies at our nursing homes and long-term care facilities,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th.

Earlier this month, Spanberger sent a letter with three other members of Virginia’s congressional delegation that called for long-term care facilities to receive $25 billion in federal emergency aid Congress already had approved.

“Unfortunately, the administration’s response to date has been inadequate to address the urgent situation at nursing homes here in Virginia and across the country,” Spanberger said Wednesday. “The amount of funding [Health and Human Services] has directed towards these facilities from the CARES Act funds is unacceptable.”

Herndon and Luray

Dulles Health & Rehab Center in Herndon confirmed Tuesday that 15 residents have died of COVID-19 out of 64 who tested positive for the virus. A spokeswoman said 25 residents have recovered from the disease and 24 are recuperating at the facility.

The facility also confirmed that 12 of the 22 direct-care employees who had tested positive for the disease had recovered and returned to work, said Jennifer Eddy, a spokeswoman for Commonwealth Care, which provides support services for Dulles Rehab and 11 other facilities in Virginia.

Eddy said the facility is relying on the Fairfax Health Department to test residents and staff, but added that testing is based on proximity to confirmed cases of the virus, rather than wider point-prevalence testing to determine its spread.

Skyview Springs Rehab & Nursing Center in the Shenandoah Valley town of Luray, in Page County, reported this week that it had tested widely and confirmed 59 positive cases among its residents, including many who had not shown symptoms of the disease, according to The Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg. The local health director said no one had died at the facility, the paper reported.

Earlier this week, The Orchard at Warsaw, a retirement community in the rural Northern Neck, confirmed that 18 of its residents and seven employees had tested positive for COVID-19, but none had died.

In the Richmond area, Spring Arbor Cottage of Salisbury, an assisted living facility in Midlothian, said that an eighth resident had died last Thursday night. Earlier that day, the facility reported 23 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including seven deaths. Richard Williams, senior vice president at Spring Arbor, said Tuesday that no one has tested positive at the facility since April 19.

The Harmony Collection at Hanover, an assisted living facility in Mechanicsville, has confirmed three of the nine COVID-19 deaths that the health department in Hanover County has reported.

Assisted living facilities were not included in an executive order that Northam issued Tuesday to ensure liability protection for health care providers during the public health emergency. The order did not name nursing homes, but included them by reference in the state code, for protection against liability for being required to “deliver care using personnel, supplies and equipment in ways that would not be undertaken in conventional practices” during the emergency.

The order still allows liability for “gross negligence and willful misconduct” by health care providers. Northam’s office said the order does not change the current definition of health care provider to include assisted living.

Scott Johnson, a lobbyist for a coalition of providers that includes assisted living, said the order also excludes hospice, home care and adult day care. He said the providers will attempt to persuade the General Assembly to change the definition when it meets in special session later this year to address expected state revenue shortfalls.

“It’s a big deal,” Johnson said.

 

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