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Nursing Homes Group Wants Mass Testing In Long-Term Care Facilities

Darwin Brandis, shutterstock.com

Mass testing in three Ohio prisons has turned up 3,853 coronavirus cases among inmates and 379 prison workers, showing how fast the virus can spread in congregate settings. Now the state’s long term care providers are hoping for the same thing in more than a thousand nursing homes, assisted living communities and other facilities.

The state tested nearly 5,400 inmates at the Marion and Pickaway Correctional Institutions and the Franklin Medical Center, because of concerns of how fast it was spreading. All deaths in the Ohio prison system so far have been at those three facilties. Sixteen inmates and 1 prison worker have died.

Pete Van Runkle with the Ohio Health Care Association says operators of long term care facilities understand why the mass testing was done at those institutions.

But since the state has repeatedly said tests are limited, he said they’re bothered by it.

“It’s clearly appropriate and necessary. Their concern just is, we’ve now used a couple thousand tests that supposedly were so scarce," Van Runkle said. "And we’ve got a bunch of folks who are in these congregate settings for the elderly and disabled and they’re not getting it.”

Van Runkle says his members support mass testing at all long term care facilities, and has said that residents and staff at nursing homes have died.

The state has set up a section of its coronavirus website for tracking of COVID-19 cases by long-term care facility. The list hasn't been updated since April 23, when 1,199 residents and 477 staffers statewide were reported to have tested positive. The state has said data on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes will be posted this week, but by county, not by facility.

Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton has said with limited tests available, testing will be prioritized by tiers, with people with symptoms who are hospitalized or are health care workers considered Priority 1.

Acton has also said when a few positives are found at such facilities, it’s assumed the virus is there without testing everyone.

"We see a few cases in a nursing home, we test as many as we can. We test some staff and then we say 'it's there' and treat it as such, you almost have to treat it as if everyone has it," said Acton at the daily briefing on Tuesday.

After a nursing home in Washington became the first U.S. hotspot for COVID-19 deaths, visitors were first restricted and then banned at Ohio's nursing homes on March 12, early in the state's response to coronavirus. And the state moved 128 polling places out of long-term care facilities for the March 17 primary, though in-person voting ended up being canceled.

Copyright 2020 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Karen is a lifelong Ohioan who has served as news director at WCBE-FM, assignment editor/overnight anchor at WBNS-TV, and afternoon drive anchor/assignment editor in WTAM-AM in Cleveland. In addition to her daily reporting for Ohio’s public radio stations, she’s reported for NPR, the BBC, ABC Radio News and other news outlets. She hosts and produces the Statehouse News Bureau’s weekly TV show “The State of Ohio”, which airs on PBS stations statewide. She’s also a frequent guest on WOSU TV’s “Columbus on the Record”, a regular panelist on “The Sound of Ideas” on ideastream in Cleveland, appeared on the inaugural edition of “Face the State” on WBNS-TV and occasionally reports for “PBS Newshour”. She’s often called to moderate debates, including the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Issue 3/legal marijuana debate and its pre-primary mayoral debate, and the City Club of Cleveland’s US Senate debate in 2012.
Karen Kasler
Contact Karen at 614/578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.