The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on Friday released an interim final rule that, among other provisions, will require nursing homes to begin reporting detailed COVID-19 information to the federal government this week.
While CMS and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) had previously announced the requirement — after weeks of pressure from providers, lawmakers, and resident advocacy groups — the Friday rule marks the formal start of the process.
The nation’s more than 15,000 nursing homes will be required to submit weekly data about confirmed and suspected COVID-19 infections and deaths at their facilities, with the first round due no later than May 8, according to an analysis of the rule from the American Health Care Association.
“We believe that these reporting requirements are necessary for CMS to monitor whether individual nursing homes are appropriately tracking, responding, and mitigating the spread and impact of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable citizens, personnel who care for them, and the general public,” CMS wrote in the rule. “The information provided may be used to inform residents, families, and communities of the status of COVID-19 infections in their area.”
Providers will be required to submit the data through the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) platform; operators can register their facilities, and also submit large batches of information for multiple properties at once, through a dedicated long-term care portal.
“The report includes, but is not limited to, information on: suspected and confirmed COVID-19 infections among residents and staff, including residents previously treated for COVID-19; total deaths and COVID-19 deaths among residents and staff; personal protective equipment and hand hygiene supplies in the facility; ventilator capacity and supplies available in the facility; resident beds and census; access to COVID-19 testing while the resident is in the facility; staffing shortages; and other information specified by the Secretary,” CMS wrote in the rule.
In addition to reporting the data to the government, the final rule requires operators to beef up their disclosure of COVID-19 cases to residents, families, and their representatives. If a facility has a single positive COVID-19 case, or three or more residents and staff begin displaying new respiratory systems within a 72-hour span, the operator must inform residents’ families by 5 p.m. on the next day.
“Also, cumulative updates to residents, their representatives, and families must be provided at least weekly by 5 p.m. the next calendar day following the subsequent occurrence of either: each time a confirmed infection of COVID-19 is identified; or whenever three or more residents or staff with new onset of respiratory symptoms occur within 72 hours of each other,” CMS wrote in the rule.
Operators do not have to make individual phone calls, and can instead use postings on their websites, recorded telephone messages, “paper notification,” and listservs to disseminate the information.
CMS warned that the agency has already begun receiving Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests related to COVID-19 cases.
“These requirements will support our efforts to proactively inform interested parties and ensure that the most complete information on COVID-19 cases is available,” CMS observed.