CMS: No Timeline for Resuming Non-Emergency Surveys for Nursing Homes Amid Coronavirus

After the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced an immediate crackdown on nursing home compliance in the wake of the coronavirus, the agency laid out new expectations for updated inspections and surveys — with no exact timeline for resuming non-emergency surveys in sight.

Although containing and preventing the coronavirus is the agency’s current top priority, CMS will continue to keep a close eye on resident abuse, with some state surveys continuing on schedule — while other regulatory practices take the backseat.

Only “the most serious concerns related to health and safety” will be evaluated at this time, according to CMS.

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The agency announced this shift would involve a particular eye on facilities with past infection-control violations last week, with today’s update informing operators that the agency means business, and is sticking to its plan.

Effects of the virus points to increased mortality rates for the frailest seniors in nursing homes, with 80% of recorded deaths over the age of 60; the death toll at a nursing facility in Kirkland, Wash., operated by Life Care Centers of America, has reached 20 people to date.

Amid the serious concerns, CMS is taking a wait-and-see approach in establishing a timeline for re-initiating non-emergency surveys.

“CMS is working closely with other state and federal partners to determine an appropriate timeframe for the suspension and will provide updates as the situation evolves and more information becomes available,” the agency announced. “Currently, we anticipate this to be time-limited, but it will remain in effect until announced otherwise.”

More specifically, CMS remains on high alert for immediate jeopardy complaints in the context of resident abuse — in addition to prioritizing infection-control surveys in Medicare and Medicaid accredited facilities.

In particular, CMS will continue to perform surveys pertaining to prior enforcement procedures, and may include particular surveys that are “mandated by law to occur within certain time frames,” such as specific first-time certification surveys for new nursing homes.

Initial surveys will see reduced priority, and are in fifth place of importance at this time.

Surveys also may continue to be unannounced, regardless of coronavirus updates in a particular facility prior to the survey.

“CMS is not suspending the requirement that surveys be unannounced,” according to the agency’s latest announcement.

Officials will utilize offsite records as the agency deems fit to determine if a survey is essential during this suspension period. CMS additionally advised reporting concerns about quality care to the state health department, and is working “closely with state health departments to coordinate the intake and investigation of complaints and/or concerns

During these survey suspensions, CMS emphasized that facilities should remain up-to-date with the news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and regional health departments. The agency will continue to coordinate with the CDC as well as state and local health agencies.

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