As the spotlight continues to hover over nursing homes, and their response to the coronavirus pandemic, Gurwin Healthcare System chief executive Stuart Almer decided this week to take matters into his own hands.
On Wednesday, Almer held a virtual meeting for state lawmakers via Zoom, in the hopes of showing state senators and Assembly members how the pandemic has affected Gurwin, one of Long Island’s largest long-term care facilities, and conveying how the industry will face a significant financial hit going forward.
“I had this call because I’m worried about the future of nursing homes — not just us,” Almer told The Point in an interview Thursday. “This is an industry under siege.”
“This is going to have a profound impact on all of us,” Almer added.
In particular, Almer pointed to the cost of personal protective equipment, and of testing staff and visitors on a regular basis. The Gurwin system, a non-profit based in Commack, includes a nursing home and an assisted-living facility, and encompasses about 1,100 employees, all of whom need testing, he noted.
On top of the increased costs, Almer said there’s less revenue coming in, due to a decline in the number of beds it has filled — a problem long-term care facilities across the region say they’re facing. Gurwin has 460 nursing home beds, 70 of which are now empty, and 201 apartments in its assisted-living facility, 35 of which are empty.
As a result, Gurwin has laid off about 10% of its staff.
Then there’s the psychological impact the pandemic has had on everyone associated with Gurwin. Gurwin has lost 61 nursing home residents and 13 residents of its assisted living facility due to the coronavirus, numbers that include those who died in the home itself, as well as those who died in the hospital.
“It’s incredibly emotional and it never goes away,” Almer said.
Despite those concerns, Almer said Gurwin is prepared for a potential resurgence of the pandemic, with isolation beds and other equipment ready to go.
Nonetheless, Almer emphasized the need for more state support.
“For the most part, we’re on our own,” he said.
The call Wednesday included State Sens. Jim Gaughran and Phil Boyle and Assembly members Steve Stern and Michael Fitzpatrick, along with representatives for State Sens. Monica Martinez and Kevin Thomas, and Suffolk County Legis. Susan Berland.
Almer had several “asks” —including the hope that lawmakers would push back on a variety of state mandates, or at least make them simpler to comply with. He noted, too, that the current visitation requirements — that no one in the home test positive for 28 days — were difficult to meet, and that he thought there were other ways to have safe visitation on Gurwin’s campus.
Beyond that, Almer pointed to a variety of non-COVID-19 related projects — such as Gurwin’s plan to add studio apartments to the assisted-living facility — that have been put on hold and need state support.
But more than anything, he focused on the immediate financial concerns he and others face.
“I think within six months’ time, if things continue in this fashion, we’ll hear a lot from providers who are in very serious trouble,” Almer said. “This is very, very alarming.”