Nursing homes caring for most vulnerable to coronavirus appeal for help

Massachusetts nursing homes caring for many of the people most vulnerable to the coronavirus made a public plea Tuesday for additional funding, staff and supplies to help protect residents and their caregivers.

Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, which represents nearly 400 nursing homes, said their ability to meet the needs of both depends largely on the ability to secure personal protective equipment, including masks, scrubs and gloves.

“We’re clearly in the bull’s-eye right now,” said Richard Bane, president of Bane Care, which runs 12 nursing homes in Massachusetts. “Right now, we have sufficient supplies. But if we start to get overwhelmed with sicker patients, we will be under stress. We are all walking a tightrope, doing the best we can to take care of our residents and staff.”

Because the pandemic already has exacerbated a “severe” staff shortage, Gregorio said, the association also has asked the state to provide temporary regulatory flexibility to allow nursing facilities to hire health care staff who have been furloughed as a result of the temporary ban on elective procedures and non-emergent appointments in ambulatory surgery centers, physician offices and other outpatient clinics.

And the association has asked the state to immediately extend presumptive eligibility for people applying for Medicaid nursing home care so that facilities can be paid sooner, she said.

Lastly, nursing facilities will need financial relief to cover the new costs associated with COVID-19 mitigation efforts — costs that the association estimates will reach at least $287 million in Massachusetts alone due largely to “skyrocketing” overtime pay, contracts to cover vacant shifts and hiring of new staff to implement precautionary screenings and in-room dining and activities, as well as supplies, Gregorio said.

To help fund these new expenses, she said, Congress has made $1.1 billion in enhanced federal Medicaid matching revenue available to the state as part of the COVID-19 federal relief bill.

But Gov. Charlie Baker’s office did not comment on the association’s request for additional funding, staff and supplies to help protect residents and their caregivers.

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