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Some Nursing Homes Still Face Medical Supply Shortages

Mask sitting on a table
Personal protective equipment is in short supply in many Virginia nursing homes, even as testing is expanded. (Photo: Charles Fishburne/VPM)

The state is increasing COVID-19 testing in nursing homes, with the help of the Virginia National Guard. But there are still concerns about whether or not facilities have enough personal protective equipment, known as PPE, to respond, if and when an outbreak is identified.

Nursing homes have started reporting shortages of PPE through a new data dashboard created by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. On Wednesday, 21 nursing homes reported difficulty in obtaining isolation gowns within the next 72 hours, and 10 facilities reported difficulty obtaining N95 masks.

While the numbers represent a fraction of all nursing homes in the state, multiple groups are concerned that the numbers are higher, since the reporting is voluntary. In a joint press release, the Virginia Health Care Association - Virginia Center for Assisted Living, LeadingAge Virginia, and the Virginia Assisted Living Association say the data “shows only a partial picture of the ongoing needs of Virginia's long-term care facilities as they take unprecedented steps to prevent further spread of COVID-19.” They point out that the data also only reflects the needs of nursing homes, not assisted-living facilities.

“Nursing homes and assisted-living providers... they don't keep a ton of PPE on hand, that's just not something that they traditionally would do,” said Keith Hare, president of the Virginia Health Care Association. His group represents the majority of nursing homes in Virginia and around 100 assisted-living facilities. “Because they're not traditionally having to put a large amount of their residents and patients and isolation units, like they have learned to do now. And so just being able to purchase the amount of PPE they needed just to be able to do that was something that was above what they traditionally do.”

The state is supposed to be a last resort when it comes to supplying individual facilities with PPE, but Hare says nursing homes have had a really hard time getting PPE on their own. They’ve faced backlogged orders from suppliers and rising prices. “We have heard that they are in some cases having to pay five times what they would have previously paid,” Hare said.

FEMA is supposed to be delivering a 14-day supply of PPE to most Virginia nursing homes, but Hare says not all of those deliveries have been made. A spokesperson for Henrico-County nursing home Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center says the facility has “gotten PPE from a variety of sources, however the state is not among them.”

According to a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health, PPE requests from individual nursing homes are filled “based on a facility’s specific needs and availability.” The state is currently working with 43 facilities to conduct point prevalence surveys, in which they test all residents and staff for COVID19.

The state of Virginia has been refusing to release the names of long-term care facilities where outbreaks have occurred, citing privacy laws. However, that’s about to change under new federal guidelines.

Nursing homes are currently required to report outbreaks not only to the government, but also to residents and family members. But the federal government now plans to release the names of nursing homes with outbreaks to the general public at the end of this month.