HHS Shipping COVID Test Supplies to Hospice, Home Health Providers

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is distributing 10 million pieces of COVID-19 testing equipment to hospice and home health providers. The department is sending this portion of federal testing resources directly providers rather than to state governments.

The 10 million unit allocation for hospice and home health providers is a portion of a total 150 million that HHS will issue directly to health care organizations, historically black colleges, state governments and other institutions. These are rapid-results tests developed by Abbott Laboratories {NYSE: ABT]. 

Thus far in the pandemic, nursing homes have taken priority as federal health agencies scramble to ramp up virus testing.

Advertisement

“We should absolutely protect people who visit nursing homes and people in nursing homes, but if you’re looking to contain the spread, you want to take a look at folks who are going from home to home. That would be the hospice, home health and home care workforce,” Edo Banach, president and CEO of the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), told Hospice News. “The need is immense. There’s an exponential need for testing and there will continue to be an exponential need for testing until we have vaccines; 10 million [tests] does not scratch the surface in terms of what the need is, certainly not for an extended period of time.”

Many hospice providers have struggled to obtain sufficient amount of testing supplies, as they have with other essential supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE). 

A factor complicating equipment procurement for most providers is that the federal government has purchased most, if not all, of the available testing machines. For most providers, HHS may be their only potential source for this equipment, according to Banach.

Advertisement

“Even for the largest providers — which ordinarily can access whatever they want to — there’s nothing to access, because the government has purchased everything that falls into this category,” Banach said. “[Hospices] really have to rely on distribution from the government to get access to the tests that they need.”

Stakeholders in the hospice space have been calling for additional aid when it comes to COVID-19 testing. NHPCO recently wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar requesting $500 million in federal dollars to support testing among hospice providers. The hospice advocacy group is helping hospice providers connect with HHS, enabling them to ask the agency to consider them as a possible recipient of the tests. Providers can email covid19@nhpco.org to request this assistance.

Demand for testing will likely continue to rise as the pandemic surges in many states, both due to increased exposure and because hospices will have to comply with requirements set by facilities in which they serve some of their patients. For example, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently issued an interim final rule requiring hospice staff and others who need access to nursing homes to be tested regularly in order to enter those facilities.

“If you’re going to provide care in a facility, depending on the state that you’re in, you may need to test your employees multiple times a week, and right now the lag time on most tests is a couple days,” Banach said. “Hospices visit individuals wherever their home is, and if their home is an assisted living facility or a nursing home, those in those places are going to have rules related to testing.”

Companies featured in this article: