Puerto Rico U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow and the Elder Justice Task Force announced the launch of an islandwide COVID-19 testing initiative for all residents and employees in Puerto Rico’s long-term care facilities.
This multi-agency, multi-sectoral initiative will cover more than 1,000 facilities, 28,000 residents, and 9,000 employees and caregivers during the next three weeks, officials said.
The effort has the support of the Puerto Health Department, the governor’s Medical Task Force, the Puerto Rico Family Department, the Puerto Rico Department of Justice’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the Puerto Rico National Guard, the Office of the Ombudsman for the Elderly, as well as the participating federally qualified Health Centers (330 Centers), with grants from Direct Relief, a humanitarian organization whose mission is to improve the health and lives of those affected by poverty or emergencies.
Members of the Elder Justice Task Force have spent the past weeks developing protocols and guidelines to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 in Puerto Rico’s long-term care facilities, organizers said.
“As Puerto Rico entered lockdown and cancellation of visits in nursing homes in mid-March, it became clear that a protocol had to be set in place to handle suspected cases of COVID-19 in nursing homes. The Elder Justice Task Force, with the help of specialists, developed an algorithm to handle suspected cases of COVID-19 in these facilities,” the organization said in a statement.
Last week, the Health Department provided 50,000 rapid test kits for the initiative, which will be backed up by molecular (PCR) testing, pursuant to the agreed upon protocols, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
“Today we launch this initiative in three long-term care facilities, and we also embark on a larger proactive initiative with the assistance of the National Guard. With the help of the National Guard, we expect to test all seniors and employees in Puerto Rico’s nursing homes within the next three weeks,” the agency said in a statement.
Once the initiative is fully implemented, up to 100 teams per day will be in the field conducting COVID-19 testing. The strategy has incorporated an online platform the Family Department has created to input data and generate reports with testing results, at the end of each day’s missions.
The Health Department’s Epidemiology Office has also pledged its support for this effort and will conduct contact tracing as well as provide counseling to nursing facilities and assist with placement of residents, if needed, Muldrow said.
“The well-being of our senior citizens during this pandemic is one of our top priorities. I commend the efforts of the Elder Justice Task Force and those who have joined our mission during this emergency. Their selfless commitment to this cause is humbling and a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit,” he said.