Ricketts loosens requirements on hospitals, nursing homes to fight coronavirus

Heath Boddy, Nebraska Health Care Association "in a war" with coronavirus (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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March 31, 2020 - 6:19pm

Nebraska is removing limits on the number of patients who can stay in hospitals, suspending staffing requirements, and slashing nursing home training requirements to fight the coronavirus. Latest news: netNebraska.org/coronavirus


Nebraska has about 64 critical access hospitals – mostly in smaller towns, serving rural areas. Until now, they’ve been restricted to no more than 25 patients at a time, for stays averaging no more than 96 hours.

Tuesday, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced he’s suspending those restrictions. In a news conference, Ricketts explained the idea behind the move.

“Basically, giving healthcare facilities more flexibility with regard to the types of patients they bring in, the types of beds they have, allowing that to expand and really making it so that we can, again, increase that hospital capacity here in our state to be able to accommodate the people who will need our help,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts also is suspending limits on hospitals using more beds than they’re licensed for and putting more than the approved number of patients in one room, as well as having a certain level of staffing.

He’s also reducing training requirements for nurse aides, medication aides and dining assistants at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, from 76 hours to 8. Heath Boddy of the Nebraska Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes and assisted living facilities, put the need in stark terms.

“Our nursing facility, assisted living home health and hospice members are in a war with this virus,” Boddy said.

Dr. Gary Anthone, the state’s chief medical officer, said as of Tuesday afternoon, 19 residents and at least 8 staff members of nursing homes and assisted living facilities had tested positive for COVID-19, and more tests are pending.

Ricketts also announced mandatory health requirements, including limiting gatherings to 10 people and converting bars and restaurants to takeout delivery and drive through-only for four more counties – Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster. That means 34 of the state’s 93 counties are now under such legal restrictions.

The governor was asked if it wouldn’t be better to impose the same restrictions statewide, as opposed to taking what a questioner described as a “patchwork” approach. Ricketts disputed that characterization.

“What this is is a regional approach that recognizes …that it will be asynchronously spread across our state won't be spread at the same time. And so we'll take these directed health measures as we need them,” he said.

The governor also denied testing is less available in rural areas than in Lincoln and Omaha, saying its focused on high-risk individuals.

“If you've got the symptoms of high fever, coughing, shortness of breath, and you're negative for the regular flu symptoms or regular respiratory disease, and you've traveled, either domestically or internationally, or even associated with somebody who is known to have the coronavirus, those people will be tested whether they're in Scottsbluff or in Omaha,” he said.

Anthone said testing continues to increase, with 350 people tested Monday, and will be expanded for health care workers and others in the near future. Latest news: netNebraska.org/coronavirus

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