Despite promises from the federal government to speed the distribution of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) to the nation’s nursing homes, operators still find themselves paying exorbitant prices for necessary equipment — when they can even find any at all.
Amid a global pandemic that laser-targets vulnerable elders, one of the most reliable PPE sources for a provider in the New York City suburbs is a man whose name remains unknown even to its CEO.
He is simply “Parking Lot Guy.”
“He’s actually met with us in parking lots,” Jewish Home Family CEO Carol Silver-Elliott said during a Thursday virtual event hosted by trade group LeadingAge. “We’ve been able to take a deep breath and wire money to bank accounts we’ve been told to wire money to, and the supplies thankfully have appeared — and have also been of good quality.”
Jewish Home Family provides skilled nursing, assisted living, and other senior care services in Bergen County, N.J., a largely affluent region just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Even though the non-profit sits in one of the hardest-hit areas in the United States, Jewish Home Family has been largely on its own when looking to secure vital PPE; the organization has received “little or no help,” according to Silver-Elliott.
“To think that we have to work these back channels — to think that we have to fight for every bit of PPE, that we have to worry that we’re going to run out,” the CEO said.
Thanks to mysterious sources like Parking Lot Guy, Jewish Home Family has been able to secure enough supply so far. But the non-profit has spent more on PPE in one month than it does in a year, Silver-Elliott said, while at the same time burning through supplies 200% faster than normal.
“The reality is without rapid testing, it appears to me that we’re going to be talking about PPE for a very long time, for the foreseeable future,” she said. “That’s something that, as an organization, I don’t know how we support.”
Silver-Elliott and Jewish Home Family aren’t alone. With supplies scarce and demand only increasing as COVID-19 continues its deadly march through nursing facilities, the cost of PPE has skyrocketed, with average markups exceeding 1,000% as early as April — with price increases on some items exceeding 6,000%, according to an analysis from the Society for Healthcare Organization Procurement Professionals (SHOPP).
On the other side of the New York-New Jersey metro area, Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation CEO Stuart Almer has seen a similarly unsustainable jump in his PPE bills.
“I signed one check about a month ago, and I had to do a double-take. It was a check to get some advanced ordering of PPE for the tune of $150,000. Not $3,000 or $8,000 — $150,000,” Almer told SNN last week. “We have gone from paying pennies per unit for an item to dollars, and I’m not being dramatic, whether you’re talking about masks, gowns.”
The need for supplies will only intensify the longer the COVID-19 crisis drags on, and the federal government only last week announced a plan to send PPE to each of the country’s more than 15,000 nursing homes. Even then, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program will bring just two weeks’ worth of necessary items, staggered across two shipments, with a target completion date of July 4.
Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, has attacked the Trump administration’s plan as too little, too late, calling on the federal government to prioritize senior care for testing, PPE, and other assistance.
“Our hopes were up when we heard that FEMA was stepping in with PPE, but they were soon dashed when it was announced that nursing homes would receive a grand total of two weeks’ worth of supplies, and shipments would not be completed until sometime in July,” Sloan said. “This is just a drop in the bucket.”
The FEMA plan also leaves out other care settings that need PPE, such as assisted living and affordable housing, Sloan observed; about half of LeadingAge’s members, which include a range of non-profit senior housing and care providers, said they only had enough gear to last two weeks or less in response to a recent poll.
The concerns will only intensify as individual states move to reopen their economies, which leaders have warned could only increase the devastation in nursing facilities.
“We are at a fork in the road,” Sloan said. “Do we ignore and sacrifice the lives of older Americans by reopening without regard to the consequences, or do we take action now?”