A bill introduced in Congress Tuesday would send an additional $500 million to bolster nursing home inspections, while implementing a host of new safety and reporting regulations, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Quality Care for Nursing Home Residents and Workers During COVID-19 Act serves as a direct response to the steadily rising death toll at the nation’s more than 15,000 nursing facilities.
“The COVID-19 crisis in our nation’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities is a national tragedy that demands a comprehensive response,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives, said in a statement. “This legislation will finally offer that to the millions of the older Americans, individuals with disabilities, and dedicated workers who rely on nursing homes for their lives and livelihoods.”
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut are set to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. Senate; all three lawmakers are Democrats.
Among the bill’s many provisions, the legislation would require operators to employ a full-time infection preventionist; mandate special COVID-19 training and sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers; and require weekly testing for residents and daily testing for staff as soon as enough supplies become available.
The legislation would also send $500 million to states for the development of “expert strike teams,” which would respond to facilities with three or more confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases within 72 hours. Survey frequency would also increase for facilities where more than 5% of confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases result in death.
In addition, the bill would require operators to provide sufficient staffing to facilitate weekly “virtual visits” with loved ones, and implement stricter federal reporting rules for COVID-19 cases.
Under an interim final rule published late last week, nursing homes must provide weekly updates to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) — while also notifying family members of confirmed cases by 5 p.m. on the following day.
The Schakowsky bill would increase that reporting frequency to every 24 hours for all deaths — both of COVID-19 and other causes — along with detailed information about demographics, available and needed PPE, staffing, and testing status. Operators would also have 12 hours to notify residents, representatives, and staff members of either a death or confirmed case.
“Over the past several months, we have failed to adequately protect our nation’s nursing homes from COVID-19; thousands of residents and staff have unnecessarily died,” Schakowsky said in the statement. “I urge all of my colleagues in the House and Senate to support the inclusion of this bill in the next coronavirus relief package.”