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What will COVID-19 testing at Tennessee long-term care facilities look like?

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Published: May. 6, 2020 at 4:38 PM EDT
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announced April 29th that long-term care facilities should test all patients and employees. National Healthcare Corporation is partnering with the state to test all patients and employees at each of its Tennessee centers.

In a statement to WVLT News, NHC CEO Steve Flatt said, “By partnering with the State of Tennessee to test every person in all 37 skilled nursing facilities in Tennessee, we will be much better informed about asymptomatic patients and partners. This will allow us to provide the best care possible."

According to NHC, the state is either providing testing or reimbursing long-term care facilities for tests. They will also be working on logistics and a timeline for testing at Tennessee centers.

“The state has made it very easy in that where we have test kits and labs who can turn around tests quickly, we can use those relationships or the state has said they are happy to handle that aspect as well," NHC President and COO Mike Ussery said.

Sweetwater Nursing Center in Monroe County started implementing widespread COVID-19 testing before the Governor's orders.

"We elected to test 100% of the facility’s staff and residents and implement a system of periodic 100% facility–wide testing. Of significant importance to us is discovering a staff member who say may have become infected at the grocery store, but who does not know they have COVID-19," Bartlee Norton, the executive director, said. "These sorts of transmissions are indeed occurring in the general public which lends our facility to believe its staff are also at risk of similar infection."

Assisted living communities are also under strict guidelines. The state has not enforced 100% testing at these facilities, but most are keeping residents inside their rooms or apartments.

"We've had to become very creative in keeping our residents engaged. It's amazing how technology has really helped us. Zoom calls or FaceTime have become big -- they're talking to families that way," Jeffery Smith, the Senior VP of Sales and Marketing for Integral Senior Living said.

The company owns about 80 facilities across 22 different states, including four in Knoxville.

Smith said two months ago new protocols began. No visitors were allowed inside their communities except medical personnel. Staff and residents are having their temperatures taken daily and Smith said residents are staying inside their apartment rooms and cannot leave.

WVLT News reporter Robert Grant asked Smith what his company has learned in the past two months and what they will continue even after the spread of COVID-19. "The creativity our teams have had to do with keeping our residents engaged," he said. "I think that is something we learned. As technology improves, we'll be able to do more online things. As a company, we have 80 communities across 22 states. Maybe it's members in California talking to residents in Tennessee."

Smith said some of Integral's facilities are playing hallway bingo where the residents don't leave their apartments.

Smith said there have been no positive COVID-19 tests at any of its four Knoxville facilities.

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