Some Virginia nursing homes are still struggling to source basic supplies

Some Virginia nursing homes are still struggling to source basic supplies
Gov. Ralph Northam toured a warehouse last week housing state supplies of personal protective equipment. (Source: Governor's office)

At a news conference on Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam called nursing homes, which have accounted for more than half of the state’s COVID-19 deaths, a “top priority,” adding that his administration is doing “everything we can” to take care of them, including the provision of personal protective equipment.

“If they need more PPE, we have the PPE,” he added. “And hopefully they’ll know the proper channels to go through and we’ll be able to deliver it.”

But hours earlier, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association — a key player in the state’s emergency management program for health care systems — sent an email to long-term care facilities, warning that coronavirus was continuing to limit supplies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused shortages of certain PPE necessary for treating highly infectious residents with the virus and impacted health care facilities’ ability to respond,” wrote Kelly Parker, VHHA’s director of emergency preparedness, in a Monday morning email.

The message explained the process for requesting protective equipment from the state, which would be distributed based on “urgent need” or in cases of critical shortages.

“‘Urgent need’ is defined as [seven days] or fewer days of available PPE, an unplanned shortage of supplies (e.g., a backorder/cancellation of ordered PPE), or an outbreak in your facility,” Parker wrote. An attached document from the state’s emergency management program emphasized that state-provided protective equipment “is a last resort and should not replace the normal supply chain.”

In a statement to the Mercury, Julian Walker, VHHA’s vice president of communications, wrote that the message was specific to a “particular scenario in which providers have been unable to acquire needed PPE through traditional supply chains and are therefore making a special application to the state for assistance.”

But nursing homes across the state are experiencing disruptions in usual supply chains that make sourcing their own equipment uncertain at best, said CEO Melissa Andrews of LeadingAge Virginia, an association of nonprofit senior living centers.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.