The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) could formally release new COVID-19 reporting guidelines for nursing homes as soon as this week, sources told the Wall Street Journal Sunday.
The publication had few other details about the exact scope of a potential CMS order, with a spokesperson telling the Wall Street Journal that “the agency remains committed to greater transparency.”
The news comes amid a growing public push for the federal government to release more information about coronavirus outbreaks at the nation’s nursing homes.
While some states have implemented new disclosure requirements for skilled nursing facilities and other long-term care sites in the wake of COVID-19 outbreaks, CMS has not yet issued federal-level rules or recommendations for the more than 15,000 nursing homes it oversees.
NBC News on Friday estimated the death toll at nursing facilities around the country at more than 2,200, while the New York Times covered the rising number of COVID-19 fatalities at New York State buildings — which the paper counted at “nearly 2,000” — on the front page of its Sunday edition.
A USA Today investigation, published Monday, found more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths associated with nursing homes, with positive cases at at least 2,300 properties across the country.
But the publication noted that not every state was able to provide firm numbers of cases and deaths, leading USA Today to conclude that the true count must be higher.
“Six states did not respond, including Florida, a retirement haven,” USA Today reported. “Another six states said they were compiling numbers but declined to provide some or all of them. Thirteen states could only provide partial data, citing various reasons including that they were not tracking deaths specifically in nursing homes or couldn’t separate staff and residents who have tested positive.”
The American Health Care Association (AHCA) stepped out in front of the federal government over the weekend, urging its members to report all COVID-19 cases to state survey agencies — CMS’s on-the-ground affiliates that conduct routine inspections of nursing homes.
“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,” AHCA president and CEO Mark 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.”
Industry trade group LeadingAge also emphasized the importance of data reporting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We underscore our earlier recommendation to our nursing home members that reporting COVID-19 positive cases to their local health departments is paramount,” LeadingAge president and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said in a statement. “With supplies of personal protective equipment and testing resources in extremely short supply nationwide, case numbers are a critical piece of information to help determine supply prioritization.”
Two U.S. senators earlier this month wrote a letter demanding that CMS and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) release a public list of all facilities with COVID-19 cases, giving the agencies a deadline of April 16 to respond.
“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,” Sens. Bob Casey and Ron Wyden wrote.