COVID-19 has taken a tremendous toll on our entire community, especially those who reside in long-term care facilities and their families, as well as the doctors, nurses and health care team members who care for them.
The Alliance for Senior Care is a consortium of five nonprofit skilled nursing facilities in Greater Rochester: Episcopal Senior Life Communities, Friendly Senior Living, Jewish Senior Life, St. Ann’s Community, and St. John’s. Collectively, we represent more than a third of all long-term and assisted-living beds in the Rochester area.
Long-term care facilities are doing everything possible to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and have aggressively implemented numerous protective measures. Our daily routine includes temperature checks and screening of employees, enforcing strict infection prevention and control procedures such as handwashing, wearing of gloves, face masks/shields, gowns, and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order mandating testing has hit long-term care providers especially hard. While we agree that testing is helpful in mitigating the spread of this virus, the high cost of test analysis and increased staffing have severe implications for long-term care facilities if financial assistance is not provided. Meeting the weekly mandate at the facilities in our alliance, which equates to thousands of tests, means a combined cost of more than $163,000 a week.
Even more alarming, the state is in the process of implementing an additional Medicaid cut, reducing Medicaid payments to long-term care facilities by 1.5 percent. The state is also cutting capital reimbursements by 5 percent.
Statewide, the average operating margin for nursing homes is 0.3 percent. Nearly 40 percent of nursing homes across the state operate at a loss. For nonprofit facilities, the impacts are substantial and simply cannot be sustained over the long term.
Since before the start of the lockdown, we have responded to numerous and ever-changing operational guidelines from national, state, and local governing entities. We have borne the burden of acquiring and providing additional temperature screening tools, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) and implemented hazard pay for staff—our “first responders.” At the same time, we remained focused on reinventing resident engagement programs, keeping staff morale up, and making sure there was increased communication with families.
Especially heart wrenching has been the governor’s mandate to restrict all visitors. Family members are a critical part of our resident’s lives and overall plan of care. They provide the love and personal connections that only they are able to. Families also become part of the fabric of the long-term care facility where residents live. Health care team members also deeply miss the personal connection they have formed with residents’ loved ones, as they have become part of their own extended family.
While our human and financial resources have been stretched beyond their limits, our commitment to our residents and our employees is unwavering. Never has there been a time that we have been more amazed at our employees’ dedication to the health, safety and care of our residents. They are truly heroes risking their own health and that of their loved ones to selflessly take care of others. They do so because of their higher calling, and we are proud to work alongside such essential and exceptional people.
While our residents have been unable to have in-person family visits, they have not been alone. Our team members have found creative ways to lighten residents’ spirits and keep them from feeling isolated, with Hallway Bingo, Buddy Programs, Travelling Happy Hours and customized broadcast programming of religious services, local live music, and exercise classes.
For residents’ families, we’ve arranged regular family video visits, and more recently, socially-distanced window visits. That said, we know families are anxiously anticipating the day that they can reunite with their loved ones. We are carefully planning for reopening and the reunions that will follow, and we look forward to the day when we can welcome families back.
In the meantime, we remain diligent in our efforts to battle the spread of COVID-19. As others celebrate the state’s different phases of reopening, please keep our residents, our employees, and all of our families in your thoughts and prayers. Our work is not over.
Glen Cooper is president of the Alliance for Senior Care, a consortium of five nonprofit skilled nursing facilities in Greater Rochester that was formed in May 1997 to address industry issues, generate cost savings, and share best practices. All Rochester Beacon coronavirus articles are collected here.