Testing shortages reach nursing homes and home health agencies

Nursing homes and other aged care providers are grappling with the current shortage of rapid COVID-19 tests, with reports of low inventory as the administration makes a massive effort to increase manufacturing capacity of the country.

The testing shortage is compounded by a worsening staffing crisis. The industry has lost hundreds of thousands of workers since the pandemic began, and soaring cases of the omicron variant are forcing more staff to call for unemployment.

The issue raises questions about elder care nationwide and whether the administration’s effort to ship 1 billion tests directly to households is further reducing supply to providers, who are already in compete with an increase in demand from the general public. Residents of nursing homes are particularly at risk from the virus, accounting for about 142,700 of the roughly 860,000 total COVID-19 deaths in the United States – 17%, despite making up less than 1% of the population.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky told lawmakers in January that the Biden administration is sending about 2.8 million tests directly to long-term care facilities each week. But major industry groups like LeadingAge and the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living report that many members are struggling to find tests.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services require skilled nursing facilities to test staff at least once a week when community transmission is considered moderate, and twice if it is considered high. Many facilities have agreements with labs to perform PCR testing, but turnaround times can stretch to days as demand increases.