As calls for the federal government to release lists of nursing homes with confirmed COVID-19 cases grow louder, the industry’s largest trade group on Saturday urged members to report cases to state survey agencies — as well as local health authorities and family members.
American Health Care Association president and CEO Mark Parkinson framed the move as a way to help the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) identify the facilities with the most profound needs for further testing and personal protective equipment (PPE), both of which have been in short supply for the nation’s long-term care facilities.
“We encourage CMS to use this data, in collaboration with other federal agencies, to help target PPE and testing resources that long term care providers desperately need,” Parkinson said in a statement. “Without testing it will be hard to keep state and federal agencies apprised of how this virus is spreading and get the help facilities desperately need.”
Under AHCA’s updated guidance, nursing homes should report every positive COVID-19 test result, for both residents and staff, to their local state survey agencies — affiliates of CMS that conduct on-the-ground inspections of nursing facilities. They must also notify all residents, family, and staff at the time of the first positive result, while also complying with all requirements mandated by local health departments.
“Long-term care providers continue to desperately seek the resources that will help them battle this virus, including personal protective equipment,” Parkinson said. “As this virus continues to spread, it is critical that we get long term care staff the proper PPE to ensure their safety at work.”
Various state and local authorities have implemented new reporting rules for nursing homes; AHCA’s recommendations apply to more than 14,000 skilled nursing facilities, assisted living communities, and other long-term care sites across the country.
Parkinson’s announcement came amid a growing push for more public disclosure around COVID-19 cases in nursing homes. A Friday report from NBC News found that more than 2,200 coronavirus deaths were associated with nursing homes, with confirmed cases at nearly 2,500 individual properties.
The New York Times on Saturday reported that New York alone has seen 1,439 COVID-19 deaths in its nursing homes, with more than half of the Empire State’s 613 properties reporting cases.
A pair of U.S. senators earlier this month demanded that CMS administrator Seema Verma and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield release a list of all facilities with known positive cases, among other information.
“At a time when this information could be vital to the health and safety of Americans, it is imperative that the list of facilities with a COVID-19 case, among residents and staff, be made public and shared with relevant health care providers, authorities, and Congress on a real-time basis,” Democratic Sens. Bob Casey and Ron Wyden wrote in a letter to Verma and Redfield.
Like many other care settings, nursing homes have been hamstrung in their fight against the disease by a widespread lack of testing and dwindling supplies of PPE. While CMS has implemented strict new rules regarding the use of PPE in skilled nursing facilities in the wake of deaths in the setting, operators have indicated that it’s increasingly difficult to find sufficient quantities of supplies.
As early as mid-March, Parkinson and AHCA had sounded the alarm about a lack of access to masks and gowns, and an industry group this past week indicated that following updated federal guidelines around PPE could cost facilities as much as $10,000 per day — if they can access supplies at all.
Individual PPE items have also been subject to markups of more than 6,000% since last month.
Nursing homes do not generally receive direct reimbursements from Medicare or Medicaid to cover the cost of supplies such as PPE.
“The government needs to step up their programs to giving these nursing homes the funding they need,” Michael Greenfield, CEO of purchasing group Prime Source Healthcare Solutions, told SNN last week. “Without it? They will not be able to survive. This is a life-or-death situation. This is not a joke. This is not asking the government for assistance and hoping it comes through. This is: If the government does not assist, nothing will change, and unfortunately people will die.”