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Health Care Providers, Advocates Say Oklahoma Nursing Homes Need Help to Control Coronavirus

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Health care providers and resident advocates told state lawmakers Oklahoma’s nursing homes have immediate needs to deal with COVID-19.

Long-term care facility residents account for about 1% of Oklahoma’s population, but more than 40% of COVID-deaths, mirroring a national trend.

Dr. Alexander Frank with the medical group Long Term Care Specialists described the coronavirus as “insidious,” and said it doesn’t care about the quality of a facility.

"It’s going to hit you where you’re at. You don’t know when. They best thing you can do: mask, glove, PPE , and surveillance and vigilance. I’m still a fan of COVID-only homes, and if you guys could find a way to open up homes that are COVID-only, that would make me happy," Frank said during an interim study on COVID in nursing homes.

LeadingAge Oklahoma Executive Director Mary Brinkley said facilities are largely not doing required postmortem testing for the coronavirus, a misstep when around two in five who are infected don’t show symptoms.

"This testing is crucial for us to identify COVID in a facility early enough to prevent the devastating spread, additional death, loss of staff and spread into the surrounding community," Brinkley said.

Chad Mullen with AARP Oklahoma said with staff bringing the virus into facilities from the outside triggering a significant number of outbreaks, there needs to be a rigorous testing protocol for them.

"I know we’ll need the supplies to conduct those tests. I know there’ll be costs associated with it. So, we really need to figure out a way to conduct that testing, get those supplies, but also make sure that those protocols are required, not recommended," Mullen said.

About one-third of COVID cases identified in nursing homes have been staff members. Long-term care facilities are also facing staffing shortages when outbreaks force workers to quarantine.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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