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Walz gives update on long-term care and COVID-19

The state has a "Five-Point Battle Plan" to stem the spread of the virus in long-term care facilities.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz held news conference Tuesday afternoon to give an update on long-term care and COVID-19.

The announcement focused on the state's "Five-Point Battle Plan" to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.

Here are the elements of the plan that have been implemented, according to Walz:

  • Developed testing criteria and a process for facilities to request testing services, making it possible to expand testing for residents and workers in long-term care facilities.
  • Implemented a Nurse Triage Line to provide test results and information on COVID-19 and streamlined the billing process for using the state’s testing partnership, to provide testing support and troubleshooting to clear barriers faster.
  • Developed a system for prioritizing and disbursing personal protective equipment (PPE) to facilities, including an emergency supply and response system, to ensure these materials are available when needed.
  • Utilized a scheduling software system to connect facilities with staffing needs to available staff, as well as develop triggers and a notification system for when a facility needs additional staffing. In June, 112 shifts were filled through this system, representing 36% of available shifts. There are more than 1,100 qualified healthcare professionals signed up in the database.
  • Leveraged partnerships at all levels, including state and federal agencies, as well as long-term care associations and regional healthcare coalitions to improve long-term care testing, staffing, PPE distribution, and patient surge capacity and discharge.

“With an aggressive multi-pronged strategy, this battle plan is helping ensure Minnesota’s long-term care facilities are more resilient and better prepared to contain the spread of COVID-19,” Walz said. “We’ve made progress, but there’s still more work to do. Together with our partners in congregate care settings, we must continue to take action to protect our most vulnerable Minnesotans as this pandemic continues.”

As of July 21, half of Minnesota’s 368 nursing homes have never reported a case, 24% of Minnesota’s nursing homes currently have an active outbreak, 8% of Minnesota’s assisted living facilities currently have an active outbreak, and the growth in the number of facilities with a new outbreak has slowed significantly, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in the press conference.

According to data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), 77% of Minnesota's coronavirus-related deaths were residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities.

Congregate care settings are named as the "likely exposure" source for 7,530 cases - just under 16% of the state's total.

Assisted living facilities were locked down early on in the pandemic in Minnesota, and MDH began allowing "window visits" and outdoor visits in late June. On July 10, MDH announced that long-term care facilities can begin designating friends, family or volunteers to be an "essential caregiver" to a resident and have expanded access to see and help that person.

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MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said at that time that they will be prepared to halt the program at some facilities if necessary.

"We are going to be very much mindful of the situation statewide and locally for making sure that we can maintain this appropriate balance between safety and increasing support and choice for residents and families," she said.

Malcolm said the tight restrictions on long-term care meant to keep residents safe from the virus have come at their own cost.

"Balancing safety from COVID-19 with the well-being of residents is an urgent priority for all of us," she said.

MDH keeps a list online of long-term care facilities with at least one COVID-19 exposure online. Exposure means someone who tested positive for COVID visited, worked at or lived at the facility while contagious.

Facilities that have fewer than 10 residents are not listed, and those that have not reported a new exposure in 28 days are removed.

Walz was joined Tuesday by Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Commissioner Malcolm, MDH Health Regulation Director Michelle Larson, Jones-Harrison Senior Residence President and CEO Annette Greely, and Michelle King-Sowold, healthcare administrator at the Good Samaritan Society in Brainerd.

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