On its second day in office, the Biden administration vowed to provide financial and logistical support to the nation’s embattled nursing homes as part of a larger COVID-19 game plan released Thursday, while also hinting at stronger rules and regulations around infection control.
The 200-page “National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness” lays out a wide-ranging vision for fighting the ongoing crisis, with a particular focus on vulnerable and underserved communities.
The plan represents more of a broad overview than a detailed set of instructions, but the document does provide a window into how the new president sees the role of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other federal agencies in fighting the pandemic in long-term care.
“HHS and the Center [sic] for Medicare and Medicaid Services will strengthen Long Term Care facility guidance, funding, and requirements around infection control policies; support Long Term Care staffing levels sufficient to ensure patient safety, and support the accelerated distribution of vaccines to residential care settings,” the administration asserted in its report, which specifically highlighted the disproportionate share of deaths seen in the setting.
As part of the push, President Biden issued an executive order that, among other COVID-related provisions, empowers HHS, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and other department heads to “provide targeted surge assistance to critical care and long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, intermediate care facilities for individuals with disabilities, and residential treatment centers, in their efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19.”
A separate order created a testing board that will look to boost COVID-19 screening capacity in long-term care facilities and other congregate settings; the administration will also pursue the expansion of federal purchasing contracts for tests. and other supplies.
Under Biden, the federal government will look to streamline the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program — under which CVS and Walgreens have been tasked with vaccinating residents at the vast majority of nursing homes across the country — while also expanding it to other congregate settings such as jails, homeless shelters, and facilities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The sprawling plan includes a push to provide transparent data about COVID-19 cases, tests results, and vaccines, along with nursing home capacity and key shortages of necessary supplies.
“The federal government will establish data systems for tracking COVID-19 outbreaks, future outbreaks across the country, and response efforts to mitigate those outbreaks,” the report noted. “The CDC will also maintain public dashboard data at the county level on key COVID-19 related metrics. COVID-19 data with non-personally identifiable information will be open to the public and machine-readable to the maximum extent permissible to track performance, support forecasting, ensure transparency, and promote scientific research.”
The Trump administration had come under fire for not providing public information about the spread of the virus, particularly in nursing homes; the federal government did not launch a coordinated effort to track infection and death counts in nursing homes until April, with reporting beginning in May.
“Above all, Vice President Harris and I, and our entire Administration, will always be honest and transparent with you about both the good news and the bad,” Biden wrote in an introductory letter. “The honest truth is we are still in a dark winter of this pandemic. It will get worse before it gets better.”