Reynolds sends $14 million to nursing homes amid new burst of COVID-19 outbreaks

A nursing home employee assists a resident. (Photo by Getty Images)

Long-term care facilities in Iowa will receive $14 million from the state’s share of federal coronavirus relief funds to help with staffing and testing needs, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday.

The Iowa Department of Public Health issued new guidelines Nov. 3 for emergency staffing in long-term care facilities. In a staffing crisis, health care professionals who have tested positive for COVID-19 can be allowed to continue to work under certain criteria, the guidelines state.

Reynolds’ announcement comes as the Department of Public Health was prepared to report an additional 20 outbreaks in long-term care facilities around the state for a total of 114. An “outbreak” is reported when three or more residents or staff members test positive.

“News of long-term care outbreaks is, you know, very concerning as it impacts our most vulnerable population and as we saw earlier this year, the consequences of COVID-19 in these facilities can be devastating for residents and their families,” Reynolds said at a news conference.

The staffing guidelines for nursing homes provides a variety of strategies and resources for facilities experiencing staffing shortages due to COVID-19.  If those efforts aren’t enough, however, health care professionals who have tested positive for COVID-19 but aren’t sick would be allowed to return to work voluntarily with adequate protective equipment. Duties could be assigned that involve no contact with residents or other staff, such as telemedicine. But in a crisis, a COVID-positive staff member could be assigned to care for patients who are also COVID-positive.

As a “last resort,” health care professionals with confirmed COVID-19 may be allowed to “provide direct care for patients without suspected or confirmed COVID-19,” the guidelines state.

The $14 million from the federal CARES Act can be used to cover long-term care facilities’ increased costs related to staffing and COVID-19 tests, Reynolds said. When asked if the money could also cover personal protective equipment, Reynolds said the state continues to provide PPE from the state stockpile.

As of midday Thursday, the state was reporting 2,831 positive cases associated with outbreaks in 94 long-term care facilities. To date, there have been 972 deaths associated with COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.

While Iowa’s positive cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to rise, the rate of increase has slowed.  Iowa reported 4,336 new cases on Wednesday and at least 38 deaths from COVID-19, according to the New York Times database. Over the past week, Iowa’s new cases have averaged 4,154 per day. That’s an increase of 77% from the average two weeks earlier.  On Nov. 11, the daily average had increased 203% from two weeks before.

Hospitalizations continued to spike, with 1,516 people with COVID-19 hospitalized reported as of Wednesday. The Times reported a 97% increase in hospitalization over the daily average from two weeks ago.