States Call in National Guard to Help with Infection Control, COVID-19 Testing in Nursing Homes

As nursing home operators around the country work to stem the rapid spread of COVID-19, multiple state governments have announced the deployment of the National Guard to supplement existing staff in long-term care facilities.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp ordered the activation of more than 100 members of the state’s National Guard, who will be sent to nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout the state — with the explicit goal of helping to roll out new infection-control protocols and provide assistance with sanitizing facilities.

As of Wednesday, 20 soldiers were en route to the Pelham Parkway Nursing Home in Pelham, Ga., which has seen five confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to state officials. The Pelham facility will serve as a kind of training ground for the National Guard personnel, with future deployments consisting of four to five people per facility.

Advertisement

“Georgia’s top priority is increasing health care capacity to protect vulnerable Georgians, especially those residing in long-term care facilities,” Kemp said in a Wednesday statement. “If we can keep these populations as healthy as possible, we will be able to conserve precious medical supplies and hospital bed space in the coming days and weeks.”

Adjutant Gen. Tom Carden, who oversees the Georgia Army and Air Force National Guards, framed the situation in martial terms.

“The Georgia National Guard stands ready to assist any long-term care facility in this time of need through staff training and implementation of infectious disease control measures,” Carden said in the statement. “Our training has prepared us to fight this virus, and we are eager to lend a hand in this battle.”

The enforcement of infection-control rules has taken center stage amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with the federal government suspending all non-emergency nursing home inspections and releasing stricter infection-control guidelines directly inspired by a raft of deaths at a facility in Kirkland, Wash.

The Georgia Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes in the state, thanked Kemp for the assistance in a statement provided to SNN on Wednesday.

“This support is critical, as it will help to supplement staffing and infection prevention efforts. Such assistance is especially needed as a large number of center staff across the state are being required to self-quarantine until testing for the virus can be completed,” the group said. “As of yesterday, Guardsmen were deployed to two centers and further deployments may be made to centers across the state, with priority given to confirmed positive cases of the virus.”

The association had been working with the National Guard and state officials to develop the program.

Further north, Massachusetts will soon send seven teams of National Guard personnel to the state’s nursing homes to perform on-site COVID-19 testing, according to a report from local NPR station WBUR.

The pilot program will operate in conjunction with the state’s Department of Public Health and the Broad Institute, a disease research institution backed by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Broad Institute will fast-track tests for nursing homes, according to WBUR, with results coming back within 24 to 48 hours.

“We recognize that our elder populations, especially living in high-density environments such as these, are some of the most vulnerable,” Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders told WBUR. “Prior to launch, the only way for nursing home residents to be tested was to go to a hospital or to a physician’s office.”

The Massachusetts National Guard first entered the COVID-19 fray in nursing homes as part of an investigation at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in the western part of the state, WBUR reported; 16 people have tested positive for the disease at the state-run nursing facility for veterans in Holyoke, Mass., with six deaths.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has also moved to increase in-place coronavirus testing at nursing homes, allowing labs to receive direct reimbursements for tests performed at residential care facilities as well as individual people’s homes.