Nursing Homes Seek Answers On Testing-For-All Mandate | WGLT

Nursing Homes Seek Answers On Testing-For-All Mandate

May 30, 2020

Nursing home managers in McLean County are scrambling to get COVID-19 tests after Gov. JB Pritzker ordered long-term care facilities to test all residents and staff.

Matt Riehle, chief operating officer at Westminster Village in Bloomington, said he took exception to the governor seeming to suggest long-term care facilities aren't doing their job.

“It just gives a difficult light to skilled providers who have been doing this for months,” Riehle said. “I just feel there could have been a better way of doing that.”

Westminster has tested only a handful of residents and staff. None have tested positive. Riehle said staff conducts two wellness checks per shift on each of the residents to see if any show coronavirus symptoms. 

Westminster has 340 residents in its retirement community, including 65 in skilled care, where the testing mandate applies. The company has 240 employees.

Luther Oaks Executive Director Doug Rutter said the facility has used Quest Diagnostics to handle COVID-19 testing for residents.
Credit Luther Oaks

Luther Oaks in Bloomington had two employees contract the coronavirus in March. The complex has 170 residents, including 18 residents in skilled care and 150 employees.

Executive Director Doug Rutter said six residents have been tested through a private lab, Quest Diagnostics. He wonders if that testing will be possible now that all nursing homes will have to test everyone.

“Now that we know every long-term care provider is going to be making the same calls to these same providers, I do have a concern about their individual capacities to provide that, even on a single-test basis,” Rutter said.

Rutter said the state hasn't specified how often residents and staff will need to be tested, but if it becomes recurring, that would carry significant cost. Tests started at $250 each before coming down in recent weeks.

“We are concerned about what the long-term costs will be, especially if it becomes a whole house test we have to do on a weekly basis,” Rutter said.

Riehle said insurance has covered testing for residents, but for employees who don't have coverage, Westminster will pick up the cost. He said they can handle it, but some nursing homes in rural areas won't be able to.

“I’ve heard stories from many people that they are not in the same position we will be in terms of the ability to do testing and if they do, there’s going to be a financial impact which may threaten some of their organizations,” he said, adding Westminster's testing plan likely will include the drive-thru site at the Interstate Center in Bloomington, where the public can get tested at no cost.

McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight noted until Thursday, nursing homes were following guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health that called for testing residents only after symptoms emerged. She said large-scale testing of asymptomatic people would require regular follow-up tests to determine the extent of the virus' spread, which she said isn’t feasible.

“Your testing should never take the place of good infection-control measures,” McKnight said. “That’s why it may not be a recommendation. It’s only as good as that day and that time when the specimen is collected.”

The state has been providing COVID-19 tests at nursing homes when there have been outbreaks, including the Bloomington Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, where nine residents and one staff person have died.

Illinois joins a growing number of states that are mandating universal testing at long-term care facilities. Nearly half of Illinois' COVID-19 deaths are linked to long-term care facilities.

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