President Trump on Thursday announced the formation of a special nursing home task force that will convene in late May with the goal of better preparing the industry for future outbreaks in the wake of a staggering COVID-19 death toll.
The Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes will consist of industry leaders, doctors, scientists, resident advocates, family members, and others, the president and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Seema Verma announced at a White House press conference Thursday afternoon.
“The commission will comprehensively assess the response,” Verma said. “It will identify best practices, and also provide recommendations for how we go forward to protect our nursing home residents and make sure we are providing the best quality of life.”
The group will focus on three primary areas: protecting residents from COVID-19, ramping up authorities’ ability to identify and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in facilities, and improving compliance with infection control policies.
“Additionally, the commission will focus on identifying potentially innovative approaches to using nursing home data to allow for better coordination between federal surveyors, state and local entities, and nursing homes to address the current spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes,” CMS announced in a subsequent statement. “The commission will also use data to assess efforts across the country to stop or contain the virus within these facilities.”
Trump also confirmed earlier reports that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will soon begin distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to the nation’s 15,400 nursing homes.
“It’s a spot that we have to take care of,” Trump said. “I guess you could call it a little bit of a weak spot, because things are happening at the nursing homes that we’re not happy about that. We don’t want that to happen.”
The FEMA assistance will come in the form of “care packages” containing seven days’ worth of four primary types of PPE — eye protection, masks, gowns, and gloves — according to FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor.
FEMA will base the quantities on each facility’s staffing and PPE usage rates, Gaynor said.
The first shipments will be sent next week to operators in the New York, New Jersey, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. metropolitan markets, with future distributions to properties in other areas. Over the next 60 days, Gaynor said, all nursing homes will receive two sets of care packages, for a total of 14 days’ worth of PPE, “no later than July 4.”
In addition, the president announced that the federal government will this week finalize a previously disclosed rule that will require nursing home operators to submit COVID-19 data to both CMS and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
CMS will also send $81 million of CARES Act funding to states in order to bolster their nursing home inspection efforts, according to the president.
“The money couldn’t come at a more critical time,” Verma said.
The CMS administrator concluded with a direct message to nursing home residents and their families.
“Your pain is our pain, and we are doing everything we can to support you,” she said.
American Health Care Association president and CEO Mark Parkinson, who was present for the press conference, praised the moves in a statement released late Thursday.
“We appreciate the commission and plan of action announced today by the Trump administration as an important step forward to ensure long-term care facilities receive the vital support needed during this unprecedented public health crisis,” Parkinson said.
LeadingAge, which represents non-profit senior living and care providers, had a more critical response, with CEO Katie Smith Sloan calling FEMA’s distribution of two-week PPE supplies “wholly insufficient” and noting that the post-acute and long-term spaces have been left out of the main batch of CARES Act health care relief.
“The president claimed that ‘We’re taking very special care of our nursing homes and our seniors.’ This is false. The time for talk, symbolism, and proclamations has passed,” Sloan said in the statement. “It’s time for action from the White House and Congress.”