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Pa. works on a formal plan to implement ongoing COVID-19 testing in nursing homes

The American Health Care Association (AHCA) is calling for state and federal funding to help nursing homes shoulder the costs of ongoing COVID-19 testing.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Nursing homes are awaiting a clear plan from the Pennsylvania Department Health (DOH) on its universal testing directive. Governor Tom Wolf said mass testing in long-term care facilities will begin later this month.

The Wolf Administration is developing a funding plan from the data they collect from long-term care facilities. Some families have said that data, so far, is confusing.

Kelly Skiptunas’ 89-year-old mother lives at SpiriTrust Lutheran nursing home in Manchester Township, York County. Employees there are caring for a patient with COVID-19, but Skiptunas said the facility is not listed in the data released by DOH. 

“I don’t understand,” questioned Skiptunas. “I don’t understand unless their list isn’t complete. We’re all still left hanging, wondering how bad this might get.”

RELATED: Pennsylvania revamps testing strategy to fight COVID-19 in nursing homes

The DOH announced a robust testing plan to protect nursing home residents and staff. The plan is to ensure each resident and employee of long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania are tested for COVID-19, according to a DOH spokesperson. Facilities with no cases do not need to continue testing every individual weekly, but the DOH does recommend testing a number of residents to ensure there is no asymptomatic spread occurring.

The American Health Care Association (AHCA) is calling for state and federal funding to help nursing homes shoulder the costs of ongoing COVID-19 testing. AHCA estimates that testing every Pennsylvania nursing home resident and employee—just once—would cost $22,229,550.

Tests will be primarily conducted by the facilities themselves, a DOH spokesperson said, and the department is working to assist them with the ability to test and obtain test materials.

Overall, the state has shipped close to 5 million N95 masks, more than 288,000 gowns, more than 1.64 million procedure masks, more than 1.6 million gloves, close to 138,000 face shields and close to 190,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to facilities in need, including hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities.

RELATED: CDC, National Guard teams help with COVID-19 response in Pa. nursing homes

However, the state is still budgeting their universal testing plan. According to the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Wolf Administration is working with state and local elected officials to determine where and what local needs are so funding can be appropriately allocated.

Over the past several weeks, DHS has been collecting data from providers on the impact of COVID-19 and are working closely with the Governor’s Budget and Policy Offices to develop plans to help stabilize long-term care providers, a department spokesperson said.

RELATED: State releases COVID-19 data for nursing homes; here's a look at what it shows in Central PA

Some families, with loved ones in nursing homes, expected a more detailed response by now. 

“Here we are, more than 2 months into this, and they still don’t have a good plan,” said Skiptunas.