State delivering protective equipment to nursing homes. Is it enough?

BY WHITNEY BRYEN
Oklahoma Watch
05/03/2020 10:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Jenni, whose last name was not provided, is a nurse at Adams PARC Post Acute Recovery Center in Bartlesville. The long-term care facility’s director said maintaining enough personal protective equipment to safely care for residents is a daily struggle. COURTESY
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that produces in-depth and investigative stories on important issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to oklahomawatch.org. COURTESY
The Oklahoma State Department of Health was delivering masks, gloves, gowns and face shields to nursing homes across the state in late April, though some facility officials say the shipments aren’t enough to protect dwindling staff and elderly residents from further infection.

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced the move during a live Facebook update on April 28 – more than a month after the state’s first nursing home resident died from COVID-19. 

Deliveries began April 27 and were expected to reach all of the state’s 306 nursing homes by the end of the week, according to the governor’s office. Each facility was to receive enough personal protective equipment to last five to seven days.

The announcement comes weeks after nursing home officials and advocates of residents and families began urging the state to provide more protective equipment to facilities.

Kimberly Green, chief operating officer for Diakonos Group, which owns 20 long-term care facilities in Oklahoma, said the one-time delivery would help but more support was needed.

“If it happens, it would relieve a lot of pressure financially and operationally,” Green said. “We hope that means they would make sure we always have five to seven days of PPE and not just this once.”

Steven Buck, president of Care Providers Oklahoma, which represents the for-profit nursing home industry, said as the state begins to reopen, it is even more important to recognize the ongoing fight against COVID-19 in these facilities.

“We are the front line in this battle, and our residents are uniquely vulnerable to this disease,” Buck said. “All of our facilities need an ongoing, sustainable supply of affordable PPE to protect both our staff and our residents.”

By April 28, at least 759 residents and staff at 51 of Oklahoma’s long-term care facilities had tested positive for COVID-19. Eighty-six residents and staff have died.

Deputy Secretary of Health Carter Kimble, who also spoke during the April 28 update, is leading a task force designed to support the state’s long-term care facilities. There are more than 650 long-term care facilities across the state, including nursing homes, assisted living and veteran facilities, adult day care centers and more. It was unclear on April 28 whether PPE would be delivered to facilities beyond nursing homes.

Kimble said stronger protocols were put in place requiring face masks to be worn at every facility, including those that do not have a positive case. Kimble said the mandate was issued because he felt “more comfortable” in the state’s supply of masks.  

Protective equipment is one of four areas that the state plans to address to mitigate nursing home infections, Kimble said. More testing, admission and discharge protocols, and additional staff, are also needed.

The state had planned to test all 42,000 nursing home residents and staff over the next 30 days using new method that tests saliva samples instead of nasal swabs, which has been the state’s main method of testing. Kimble called the saliva test a “game changer” for nursing homes because it will allow faster testing and avoid discomfort that nasal swabs often cause for elderly residents.

Kimble said facilities with positive cases will be tested first.

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