The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced this week it is launching several new initiatives designed to protect nursing home residents from COVID-19. Nursing home residents are in a demographic hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 43,000 of the elderly and vulnerable residents of long-term care facilities have died from the virus, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report. Experts say that the real number is likely much higher as not all states have been publicly reporting data.
“As caseloads continue to increase in areas around the country, it has never been more important that nursing homes have what they need to maintain a sturdy defense against the virus,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “These measures will help them do exactly that.”
As part of the initiative, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will contribute $5 billion of the Provider Relief Fund authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to Medicare-certified long-term care facilities and state veterans’ homes to build nursing home skills and enhance nursing homes’ response to COVID-19. These funds can be used for enhanced infection control, hiring additional staff, increasing testing, and providing additional services to help residents connect with families who are unable to visit due to measures implemented to protect current residents from virus spread. The funding is in addition to the $4.9 billion previously given to nursing homes to assist with revenue losses and additional costs related to responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency, as well as shipments of personal protective equipment (PPE) provided to nursing homes by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
CMS is also now requiring — rather than recommending — all nursing homes in states with 5% positivity rate or greater test all staff each week in an effort to prevent virus spread through asymptomatic carriers. To support this mandate, more than 15,000 testing devices will be deployed to facilities within the next few months beginning this week. Nursing homes can use funds from the Provider Relief Fund to pay for additional testing for visitors, if they choose to.
Federal Task Force Strike Teams were also deployed to nursing homes experiencing outbreaks to provide onsite technical assistance and education in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The first deployments took place in 18 nursing homes in Illinois, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, from July 18 to July 20. The task force is made up of clinicians and public health service officials from CMS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH). CMS and CDC are also teaming up to provide an online, self-paced, on-demand Nursing Home COVID-19 Training focused on infection control and best practices.
And, beginning in May, CMS and CDC began collecting weekly data on COVID-19 cases each nursing home. CMS said it will now release a list of nursing homes with an increase in cases each week to states as part of the weekly Governor’s report so states have information needed to target their support to the highest risk nursing homes.
Alyssa Baskam, a lawyer in our Atlanta office, heads Beasley Allen’s Nursing Home Litigation Team. Currently, Susan Anderson and Andrea Linnear also serve on the team. In order to properly handle nursing home litigation, lawyers and support staff must have specific experience and expertise in this type case.