Like elsewhere in the country, those who live in long-term care facilities in North Carolina face tremendous risk from the coronavirus, and now state health officials are taking new steps to protect that vulnerable population.

On Monday, May 18, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) announced new measures to prevent, as well as respond to, COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities across the state.

For instance, all long-term care facilities in North Carolina will receive packs of much sought after personal protective equipment – and they’ll also see a limited increased rate for some Medicaid services that support infection prevention and management.

NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said these steps are being taken the help protect these vulnerable populations in North Carolina.

“We have a team dedicated to supporting our long-term care facilities as they protect our aging family members and loved ones who require round-the-clock care and the staff who care for them,” Cohen stated in a May 18 press release. “We want to help them do all that they can because once an outbreak occurs in a congregate living setting, it can be difficult to prevent the spread of the virus.”

The protective gear that’s been in such high demand worldwide since the pandemic began is being provided to over 3,000 state-licensed long-term care facilities in the state. The packs will include a 14-day supply of face shields, masks, gloves and shoe covers. Adult care homes, family care homes, nursing homes, intermediate care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities and mental health facilities will all receive the supplies.

NC DHHS is partnering with NC Emergency Management, as well as with the state’s National Guard, to distribute the supplies.

In addition to the protective equipment, NCDHHS is providing a time-limited Medicaid rate increase for nursing facility services – such as skilled nursing and rehabilitation services. This is meant to strengthen infection prevention efforts and provide other benefits. That increase will also apply to personal care assistance and home health services to help providers who support people being able to stay at home where there’s less risk to exposure.

The state has also taken other actions since the pandemic began in order to protect both the residents and staff members at long-term facilities. Recently, the NCDHHS released updated testing guidance to clinicians that recommends testing people who live in, or have regular contact with, high-risk settings such as long-term care facilities. The state has also implemented new safety requirements for nursing homes that mandate staff wear surgical masks, and it has provided targeted funding to support nursing homes and adult care homes to all them to offer the more intensive care needed for residents with COVID-19.