CMS Mulling Multi-Phase Plan for Lifting Visitation Bans at Nursing Homes

The federal government is considering a plan that would lift visitation restrictions at the nation’s nursing homes in three phases, according to a Sunday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) would require nursing homes to achieve at least two weeks with no new COVID-19 cases before allowing restricted visitations and group activities, the Wall Street Journal reported. For facilities where more than a quarter of residents have tested positive, the period would be doubled to 28 days.

Meeting those benchmarks would put the facility in the second phase — phase one being the current lockdown — under which visits by small numbers of people, during limited hours, would be allowed.

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A given nursing home would need 14 more days without any new infections before graduating to the least restrictive third phase, with communal activities returning as normal and “broader visitor access,” according to the Journal.

The nation’s more than 15,000 nursing homes have been under lockdown since March 13, with visits by non-essential personnel banned in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

While the asymptomatic transmission of the novel coronavirus has made such guidance vital, both industry leaders and resident advocates have raised concerns about the social isolation of vulnerable seniors living in nursing homes.

The move was also not enough to prevent a devastating death toll in long-term care facilities, which the Journal pegged at more than 27,000.

The Journal based its reporting on sources that had seen internal drafts of CMS’s nursing home reopening proposals; it was not clear when the agency might roll out a formal plan, and the publication cautioned that the final strategy may differ substantially from the drafts.

A CMS spokesperson told the Journal that the agency does not comment on leaked drafts, but added “it only makes sense that CMS would also be highly engaged with working with stakeholders to plan for a potential future reopening.”

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