Despite having the most vulnerable population to COVID-19, the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment are, at the very least, encouraging long-term care and nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients.

An April 27 memo, obtained by the Sentinel, states specifically: “Long-term care facilities in Kansas cannot and should not turn away new residents or refuse to readmit previous residents for fear of COVID-19.”

The memo continues, “While it is understood there is (a) significant resource and staffing burden for facilities taking care of patients with COVID-19, it must also be emphasized that it is an inappropriate use of hospital resources (for) hospitals to house patients who are no longer meeting inpatient criteria. It is critical that all Kansas facilities participate in the care of patients with COVID-19, whether they are caring for current residents who are ill but stable enough to remain in the facility or are receiving patients with COVID-19 no longer requiring hospitalization.”

A May 13 KDHE memo, also obtained by the Sentinel, uses substantially the same language.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and KDADS insist the memo is merely “guidance” and not a requirement, but there’s nothing in ‘cannot and should not’ makes it seem voluntary.

KDADS Spokeswoman Cara Sloan said in an email that “State guidance mirrors federal regulations regarding infection control and prevention of COVID-19 in nursing homes,” as outlined in a document from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

However, that document makes clear the recommendations are not mandatory, whereas the Kansas memo seems to make it mandatory.

KDHE Spokeswoman Kristi Zears echoed Sloan’s statements.

“KDHE does not require LTCFs to admit or readmit patients that have COVID-19,” she wrote in an email. “We encourage those who have the capacity and ability to do it, to do it. The document you are referencing is guidance and not a mandate.”

The Sentinel asked if there was a superseding document that would clarify the mandate-vs-guidance statement and was told that the May 13 memo — which does not appear to be available on either agency’s website — is the most recent “guidance” available.

While Sloan insists that KDADS does not require nursing homes to readmit residents who are still symptomatic or testing positive, she says it is “encouraged.”

“This is not a requirement at the state level,” she said. “Though we certainly encourage those who have the capacity and ability … to do it.”

KDHE reports that long-term care facilities have COVID mortality rate exceeding 15% as of June 1, or about 15 times greater than elsewhere in Kansas, where the mortality rate is officially 1.1%.

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