Prioritize skilled nursing facilities during COVID-19 pandemic


April 21, 2020
Contact: Deborah Pacyna

The following statement is from Craig Cornett, CAHF President and CEO.

"Skilled nursing facilities in California are facing unprecedented challenges due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. While our members fight to keep the virus out of their buildings, or contain it if it is present, their daily struggle remains the same - to protect the lives and well-being of sick and vulnerable individuals who are most susceptible to COVID-19. 

These outbreaks are not the result of inattentiveness or lapses in nursing homes. It’s a combination of the vicious nature of the virus and its unique threat to older adults with underlying health conditions - the very people who are in our care.

We are indebted to every employee that selflessly continues to show up to work every day, sometimes at great personal risk to themselves and their families, whether at a skilled nursing center or community-based home for the developmentally disabled. These workers are the only lifeline residents have to the outside world as they remain isolated from their families and loved ones.  As residents deal with their own serious, personal health issues and try to make sense of world events, our caregivers are working to calm residents and help them maintain a sense of normalcy under extraordinarily stressful conditions.

As the pandemic progresses, it is clear we need to shift the focus and deploy county, state and federal resources to the skilled nursing sector and we applaud the Governor for his recent announcement that skilled nursing is moving up on the state’s priorities. There is a continuing shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in many areas of the state.  The lack of proper equipment puts employees and residents at risk and has been a contributing factor to outbreaks across the state.

We also need priority testing for all healthcare workers in long term care settings to stop the spread of the virus.  Where tests are available, we have seen success in keeping COVID-19 out of buildings. In other cases, when the virus is identified early, testing has allowed patients and workers to be successfully isolated to prevent further spread. But even with the best infection prevention protocol in place, we can’t stop the infection from spreading without adequate PPE and testing.

County and state assistance remains necessary to address staffing shortages resulting from worker exposure to COVID-19.  Governor Gavin Newsom’s initiative to retrain 600 nurses to support facility compliance with COVID-19 guidance and to assist facilities with positive cases is a good first step.

We can’t emphasize enough the importance of creating well-equipped, separate facilities or alternate sites to cohort COVID positive patients to keep the virus contained. Early on, the California Association of Health Facilities took the position to oppose any requirement to transfer positive COVID-19 patients from the hospital to skilled nursing facilities.  The result of state orders to nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients has played out in New York and New Jersey with devastating consequences.  We continue to work with our hospital partners and county and state agencies to address the critical need for alternate COVID positive sites.

As many of our members shift from prevention to a containment strategy, they need assistance to provide the highest level of protection to their residents and staff.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) have issued waivers to offer relief to health care providers, employees and residents during the pandemic.

Additionally, the Governor’s office has coordinated efforts to provide one-time $500 stipends to licensed vocational nurses, certified nurse assistants and other critical staff.  The state is also offering no-cost or low-cost hotel rooms for workers who have had possible exposure to COVID-19 or test positive for COVID-19 and do not need to be hospitalized.

Skilled nursing administrators, long-term care nurses and critical care workers are doing everything possible, with the resources that are available, to slow the spread of the virus in our member facilities. We remain committed to do everything we can to support their heroic and dedicated efforts on behalf of the 400,000 residents we serve each year."