Capital Region counties react to first round of twice weekly nursing home staff testing


CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Nursing homes just gave out their second round of coronavirus tests to employees this week under Governor Cuomo’s executive order. Some Capital Region counties couldn’t have higher praise Governor Cuomo’s directive for twice a week testing.

“I couldn’t stand more behind the governor in this action. It is the right thing to do,” says Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman. “Remember, it’s not so much the patients because they are there and say the virus is not in the building yet, it then brings the concern of people coming in and out. We’ve already done so much work on limiting contact, whether you’re a family member or a delivery person, the next step is to really have a tighter screening process of your employees.”

Meanwhile others say the burden of so much extra testing is just too much.

“Once a week would probably be reasonable. Twice a week I just still don’t understand that reasoning,” says Rensselaer County Public Health Director Mary Fran Wachunas.

Counties can only send around 100 to 150 tests per day to the state’s Wadsworth lab for results, at no cost. They’ve now resorted to other, more expensive methods to fulfill New York’s mandate.

“All the nursing homes had to contract with a lab. So they had to go out and call different labs to see if they can take their capacity that they were submitting,” says Wachunas.

Rensselaer County already has their first round of this week’s test results back in hand, but Wachunas says her department is then bogged down with hundreds, soon to be thousands of reports to sort out for the county-run Van Rensselaer Manor.

“The turnaround on results is about 24 hours, but you’re talking about 525 employees at the Manor, so 1,050 tests a week,” she explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton. “We are the ones that have to review them all, sort them out by positive and negative, and do our contact tracing with the positives and then the negatives are just as important right now.”

Over in Schenectady County, Fluman says they needed to look out of state to find a lab that could take on their testing load — sending samples out to New Jersey and down the line, possibly even Tennessee.

“We’ve started our second round of testing of our employees, but we haven’t heard results back yet,” Fluman explains.

Whether or not they agree with the twice a week testing mandate, everyone does agree the cost will become a huge problem if not solved soon.

“This is something that has the potential to be reimbursed by FEMA, so there are reimbursement streams, but the hard part about being in government is we have to run a payroll every week, we have to buy toilet paper every week,” Fluman says. “The sooner we can get our next round of CARES money or a federal stimulus package, the better.”

“You’re maybe getting two months out of the CARES Act money, that’s if you only spent it on testing. Realistically, we have other uses for that money as well because our expenses have gone through the roof,” explains Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin. “We have an enormous expense on PPE and sanitizing constantly, things like that.”

He also adds the county has needed to start taking up extra measures against private nursing homes looking to cut corners and costs.

“The private nursing homes just want to send their folks to our testing site at Hudson Valley. That’s not going to fly, because then we are footing that bill as well. So what we had to do is start checking insurance cards and IDs and everything else, because that really is not a county bill. Those homes should be providing that,” McLaughlin explains.

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