COVID-19 has put nursing homes across the country in the spotlight. The novel coronavirus is spreading like wildfire through nursing homes and long-term care facilities, due to both the close quarters of the residents and staff as well as the vulnerable health status of their residents.
Hundreds of nursing home facilities have reported cases of the coronavirus. Even those without existing cases have taken drastic measures to limit social contact and keep residents isolated in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.
Outbreaks Spread Quickly in Dense Population of Vulnerable Patients
About 1.3 million elderly adults live in 15,000 nursing homes nationwide. Most of these long-term care residents are already vulnerable to infections and health issues due to chronic illnesses and weaker immune systems, making it all too easy for the COVID-19 virus to spread rapidly.
Yet three weeks of infection control inspections performed by CMS revealed that 36% of nursing home facilities in the country weren’t following proper hand-washing guidelines and 25% failed to show proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE). “Both of these are long standing infection control measures that all nursing homes are expected to follow per federal regulation,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma emphasized.
The potential for an outbreak in this type of environment was painfully demonstrated by Life Care Center of Kirkland, the epicenter of COVID-19 in Washington this March. Life Care Center lost more than 25% of its residents to the coronavirus, and dozens of infected staff members had to self-quarantine for weeks before returning to work. The DHHS ultimately had to send a 28-person strike team to assist clinicians at the nursing home and get the outbreak under control.
Life Care Center now potentially faces a hefty fine of $600,000 and the loss of its Medicare/Medicaid certification for placing its residents in danger by failing to quickly identify and manage infected residents or notify the Washington Department of Health about the issue.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Announces New Requirements
On April 19, in an effort to combat the rapid spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, President Trump and CMS announced new regulatory requirements for all nursing homes in the United States. According to these requirements, nursing homes must inform residents, their families, and representatives of COVID-19 cases in their facilities. Nursing homes must also report directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) using a new reporting tool.
“Nursing homes have been ground zero for COVID-19. Today’s action supports CMS’ longstanding commitment to providing transparent and timely information to residents and their families,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Nursing home reporting to the CDC is a critical component of the go-forward national COVID-19 surveillance system and to efforts to reopen America.”
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield echoed Verma’s sentiments. “This coordinated effort with CMS will allow CDC to provide even more detailed information to state and local health departments about how COVID-19 is affecting nursing home residents in order to develop additional recommendations to keep them safe.”
As America continues to grapple with the coronavirus and take unprecedented measures to keep older Americans safe, experts hope that nursing homes can control the spread of infection and ensure the longevity of their residents.