State announces expanded nursing home reporting requirements, new mental health resources

A bevy of new resources and a stricter set of reporting requirements introduced during Monday’s state COVID-19 briefing seek to establish support for Hoosiers, both mentally and physically.

And Gov. Eric Holcomb promised that later this week, he’ll provide a plan to start returning Hoosiers to work.

Dr. Dan Rusyniak, chief medical officer for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, announced a set of new reporting requirements for long-term care facilities. Operators will soon be required to provide residents and their designated representatives with daily briefings on the number of positive and newly positive residents, the number of deaths from COVID-19 and changes made to address staffing shortages at those facilities.

“We recognize it’s a new approach and it’s going to take some time to implement. We firmly believe that every resident and their designated representative has a right to know what’s happening in their community,” Rusyniak said.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, an estimated 650,000 Hoosiers live in Indiana’s 535 nursing homes and 202 free-standing licensed assisted living facilities. So far, Rusyniak said 148 of those facilities have reported at least one positive case of COVID-19 and 85 have reported at least one death from the virus.

Facilities will be required to dedicate a staff person as the contact for residents and designated representatives, as well as establish additional lines of communication for information about the pandemic’s impact on operations. Standardized information will also have to be submitted to reporting authorities each Friday so that state level reports can be generated each Monday.

The number of affected workers at those facilities will not immediately be included in that data set, Rusyniak said. He said the state wants to avoid incorrectly reporting those figures in cases where employees work at multiple facilities.

Residents and designated representatives for those residents may report insufficient communication under the new requirements by emailing the Indiana State Department of Health at [email protected]

State health officials also announced a number of new and expanded services Monday to assist Hoosiers who are struggling with their food supply, mental health and more.

Children who would otherwise qualify for free or reduced-price lunches will begin receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP. In Indiana, that equates to roughly 400,000 children that will either receive additional benefits loaded to their SNAP card or collect those benefits for the first time. The program is set to run for the duration of the public health emergency.

Also, SNAP recipients that are at high-risk for COVID-19 will be able to have their groceries delivered starting mid-May. That delivery program is expected to continue even after the pandemic.

Hoosiers who are struggling — or know someone who is struggling — with mental distress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will also have a new, free resource from the state.

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration launched BeWellIndiana.org on Monday to provide free mental health resources vetted by experts. The collection of self-assessments, videos featuring mental health professionals and other resources focus on the various mental health challenges related to the pandemic, but the site will evolve and remain available beyond the current crisis, officials said.

While state officials did not provide specific numbers to demonstrate the increase in requests for assistance with mental health, a late-March poll conducted by the health care-focused Kaiser Family Foundation found nearly 45% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus.

Also on Monday, Holcomb said he would make a series of announcements about testing and contact tracing throughout the week, and on Friday will provide more details about loosening social distancing restrictions. He said the administration is continuing to collect and evaluate more information about the spread of the virus. Those metrics include hospitalization rates, health care providers’ capacity, death rates, where the rates are fluctuating and the current availability of personal protection equipment.

“It used to be in life I wanted to be the fastest and the first,” Holcomb said. “I want to be the surest and the safest in every step we take. This isn’t a competition to be first. If anything, this is competition to be the safest.”

Holcomb’s initial stay-at-home order went into effect March 25 and has been extended through Friday. Holcomb will announce Friday how he intends to move forward.

“There are numerous pieces that have to snap back together,” Holcomb said. “There’s no one size fits all.”

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