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Nowhere Needs Rapid Testing for COVID-19 Like Long-Term Care and Nursing Homes

Few people, especially those within healthcare, are unaware that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the nursing home and long-term care areas of the care continuum harder than anywhere else. The skilled nursing environment has, unfortunately, become a place where COVID-19 is easily transferred between patients, residents, family members, and staff, necessitating lockdowns, the prohibition of visitors, and elimination of resident gatherings. While some measures have been successful in preventing additional widespread infection and loss of life, there are inherent challenges for this care environment in the face of a pandemic. According to a recent media briefing about nursing facilities and the COVID-19 pandemic, Duke University eldercare experts emphasized that “Nursing homes will continue to be COVID-19 hotspots until state and federal officials can institute sweeping testing of asymptomatic patients and workers.”

This blog post is the third in our series based on the HealthStream article, 10 Considerations for COVID-19 and Long-Term Care, which examines specific considerations and recommendations to improve the prospects for people living in this long term care, offered by three Duke experts in the eldercare and public policy space.

Rapid Testing for Covid-19 Is Needed Badly.

Given the flow of short-term patients and staff members through any nursing care facility, rapid testing for COVID-19 can help immensely. It only takes one asymptomatic infected staff person to create an extreme problem for a nursing home or similar organization. The problem is the great variation among facilities in this care sector, related to size, services offered, and wide variation in government oversight. Testing would help identify any asymptomatic virus carriers and limit the spread; however, there is no set protocol. Federal coordination appears to be unlikely, but it may be the only solution to making this option work.

About the Experts

Nathan Boucher is an Assistant Research Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke. He studies patients’ and caregivers’ experiences and expectations of health care delivery during advanced illness and near the end of life.

Eleanor Schildwachter McConnell is an Associate Professor at the Duke University School of Nursing. She studies factors that influence functional decline in very frail older adults. Her research has been funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Donald Taylor is a Professor of Public Policy who researches aging and comparative health systems, including Medicare, long-term care, and health policy. Taylor also directs Duke’s Social Science Research Center.

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