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As coronavirus cases surge again in Maryland and across the nation, nursing homes are preparing to protect patients and staff by stockpiling more personal protective equipment (PPE), creating stricter guidance around visitations and making sure residents are among the first to receive a vaccine.
The Trump administration created a partnership with Walgreens and CVS to distribute the vaccine to nursing home staff and residents who sign up through the National Healthcare Safety Network.
In a Health Occupations and Long-Term Care Subcommittee virtual briefing Thursday morning, Joseph DeMattos Jr., president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, said he anticipates that the majority of skilled nursing, rehabilitation, and assisted living centers in Maryland will sign up.
There will be challenges with the vaccine, DeMattos said. The nation’s leading vaccine candidate is being developed by Pfizer, requires two doses and needs to be kept at -90 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderna’s vaccine, close behind Pfizer’s, requires one dose and has to be kept and transported at -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It will be complicated but it will be a god-send, it will be a game changer,” DeMattos said. “It will take time, but it will be very important.”
Immunet, Maryland’s immunization information system, will help to track vaccine orders and doses administered.
“I feel confident that we will be ready,” Maryland’s Secretary of Health Robert R. Neall said at the briefing. “Immunet is going to be an integral part in the success of keeping track of all of this activity. We’re gonna get there.”
Long-term-care facilities are following the Maryland Department of Health’s guidance by testing staff weekly, using outdoor visitations, and only allowing indoor visits when there are no new cases in a facility for 14 days.
The Maryland Department of Health has required all nursing homes to have a 30-day supply of PPE by the end of November and a 60-day supply by the end of January. As of Thursday, 115 of Maryland’s 226 nursing homes are reporting more than a 15-day supply of all required PPE.
In order to accommodate 60 days worth of PPE for each facility, LifeSpan Network– which represents more than 250 senior care provider organizations in Maryland– has contracted with a storage facility so that the association can buy in bulk and providers can have access to the PPE at all times.
“The PPE that is in short supply are face masks, face shields and gowns,” said Danna Kauffman, chief lobbyist for LifeSpan Network. “We are working diligently to provide those orders.”
On Nov. 10, the Maryland Department of Health issued additional guidance: Marylanders should get tested for COVID-19 before visiting a nursing home, staff should minimize contact with large gatherings, and each facility should continue to restrict visitation based on what’s safest for residents.
The Maryland Health Department and the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have not said what should happen if someone refuses testing. The guidance allows individual facilities to implement additional restrictions on their own.
“Our staff are working 24/7 to ensure the safety of our residents for the past 9 months, and we are going to continue to do so,” Kauffman said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Maryland has seen 17,191 COVID-19 cases in nursing homes, group homes and assisted living centers, and 2,323 deaths, according to state government statistics. These account for 10.8% of total cases in the state and 56% of deaths.
“We are doing our best and for our staff it’s a Herculean effort,” Kauffman said.