Kisco Senior Living is moving toward more normalized operations by utilizing rapid, “pooled” Covid-19 testing — similar to the approach taken by the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL).
“We’re excited about what it’ll bring to our residents and the confidence it provides our families,” Ed Ward, vice president of operations for the Carlsbad, California-based provider, told Senior Housing News.
The plan relies on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing using pooled saliva samples. This means that a saliva sample is taken from every member of a group and the collective sample is sent for Covid-19 testing. A negative test indicates that no one in the group is infected with Covid-19 . A positive test result flags that at least one person in the group has the coronavirus.
For Kisco, two pool sizes will be used, Ward explained. One pool size is up to 50 people and one is up to 100 people. The provider is strategically determining when to use each pool size based on factors such as building size, service groups, or the location of where people live or work.
For example, in a smaller building, all associates might be included in a single large pool. In a larger building, it might make more sense to divide up associates into smaller groups by service area.
Frequency of testing and speed in getting results are keys to success for Kisco’s approach. All associates across the company’s 20 properties will be tested twice a week and all residents will be tested once a week, Ward said. Certain residents who are considered at higher risk, such as those who leave a building for a medical appointment, will also be tested twice a week.
The pooled saliva samples are chilled and overnighted to the labs that Kisco is working with, which are able to return results in about 16 hours.
By testing often and getting results so quickly, the idea is that Kisco will be able to identify any positive Covid-19 cases before an infected individual has much chance of causing a widespread outbreak. The company has piloted the approach at multiple locations for a month and is confident in the results.
While some residents were resistant to taking uncomfortable nasopharyngeal swab PCR tests, there has been little pushback related to the less invasive saliva pool tests, Ward said.
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“We’ve seen incredible buy-in and thankfulness,” he said. “It also reduces the need for quarantine; if they leave the building for medical reasons, now they don’t have to quarantine when they return.”
With this new testing protocol in place, Kisco plans to loosen other restrictions at its communities, which should help improve quality of life and mitigate the negative “ripple effects” of Covid-19 on resident wellness, such as loss of mobility, depression and anxiety.
“While the pools are testing negative, we can expand dining and engagement in a socially distanced, Covid-appropriate way,” Ward said.
If a pool tests positive, everyone in the affected group will receive individual PCR tests to identify and treat the infected individual or individuals, and Kisco will engage in necessary contact tracing and other steps to limit spread. The community will also revert back to more stringent operational protocols.
Covid-19 testing has become a major expense for senior living providers, and Kisco’s initiative is no exception. The effort will cost the company an estimated $100,000 a month and none of these costs will be passed on to residents, Ward said.
But, the cost is worthwhile insofar as this approach helps safeguard residents and associates, Ward said. Furthermore, this type of testing conceivably could help stabilize and drive revenue by preventing move-outs and increasing move-ins.
“We remind our communities to stay focused on the five pillars of safety, and if we’re implementing this and executing at a high level, it should provide that confidence for prospects and their families that this is a unique environment, and we’re differentiated from the competition,” Ward said.
The reliability of Kisco’s two lab partners is another key to success. Ward is in contact with both of the labs on a daily basis, he said, which affords constant visibility into their volume of testing and the speed with which they can turn around tests. Having more than one lab partner is important, he believes, as Kisco will have another option if one lab ever encounters slowdowns.
Going forward, Kisco is also hoping to utilize individual PCR testing to facilitate more liberal visitation. Currently, residents can see visitors in outdoor areas or controlled indoor environments. At three communities, Kisco is piloting an approach in which individuals have a 24-hour window to do a more traditional indoor visit, after they receive a negative result from a PCR test.
“We’ll continue to evolve our Covid protocols and testing, and monitor the latest and greatest out there,” Ward said.