Tennessee has extended the May 31 deadline for nursing homes to test all residents and staff for the coronavirus until the end of June, and is now requiring that employees get retested every seven days.
Failure to comply could result in license revocation or civil penalties, according to a report released by the Unified Command Group on Friday.
On Thursday, Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said it had already been a “massive undertaking” but that only 60% of facilities had completed or scheduled mass testing. In all, Tennessee has 140,000 residents in 700 long-term care facilities. A total of 60 facilities have reported at least a few positive cases.
Piercey says a fifth of facilities didn’t have enough protective equipment and another fifth didn’t have enough staff. So the state is providing the masks and gowns needed for initial testing and sending medics from the Tennessee National Guard when needed.
But the state is paying for the testing — both by reimbursing nursing homes that have their own lab facilities or by paying commercial labs to process the swabs. A breakdown provided to WPLN News shows the health department owes nursing homes $300,000 for testing.
Residents and staff members are allowed to refuse testing, according to the Unified Command’s report. But they have to sign a statement to document the refusal. Staff who test positive for COVID-19 antibodies can also be exempted.
As nursing homes struggle with infection control, many are having trouble staffing their facilities. The state has relaxed training requirements for both certified nurse aides and feeding assistants.
Nursing homes have been the hardest hit settings for COVID-19, accounting for 40% of the state’s 356 deaths thus far. At the Gallatin Center for Health and Rehabilitation, 23 residents have died. In Murfreesboro, 11 residents of Boulevard Terrace Health and Rehabilitation have died.