Some SNF Operators Skeptical of Federal Infection Control ‘Strike Teams’

Operator reactions to the government’s recent “strike teams” investment range from cautious optimism to flat out skepticism, with many left wondering where this infection control help was in the spring of last year.

Others are concerned that the investment, specifically federally-funded teams coming in to help facilities with infection control and prevention, will lead to more audits and surveys.

“I don’t think they necessarily are doing it maliciously to audit, but I think the personnel that they’re going to send are going to view themselves as auditors,” explained Shua Seif, CEO of Sapphire Healthcare in Tuscon, Ariz. “I don’t know of one time when the government has offered help personnel-wise that has actually made our lives easier.”


Nursing homes are one of the first health care sectors the administration decided to focus on, funneling $500 million of its $2.1 billion infection control and prevention investment on the staffing, training and deployment of state-based nursing home and long-term care “strike teams,” according to a statement issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC is partnering with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to allow state and other health departments to send out teams to help facilities with “known or suspected COVID-19 outbreaks,” with rollout expected in October.

“It would have been great early on if there was that help, but no one wanted to do anything,” said Kenny Nichols, co-founder and chief operating officer of Bedrock Healthcare based in Milwaukee, Wis.


Nichols feels that, from a public relations standpoint, the term “strike teams” has overall negative connotations, echoing previous sentiments that the federal government has a punitive, accusatory public relationship with the industry, referring to the administration’s initial vaccine mandate only for nursing homes.

“I can’t help but think that it will help in the long run — just change the name. Change it to support teams, instead of strike teams, protection control support,” added Nichols.

Seif suggested the administration instead increase the number of immigrants allowed into the country with health care experience, or raise the Medicaid reimbursement rate by 20%.

“I believe that health care workers are considered a low priority right now, to come into the country. Why can’t we bring in 50,000, 100,000 people who agree to come here specifically to work in health care?” asked Seif. “You’ve got so many people in the Philippines and in Northern Africa that are willing and wanting to do that.”

Skilled nursing wages are climbing because operators are competing against each other for staff, Seif said; an influx of staff would keep pay at a “normal level” and undo the need to increase Medicaid reimbursement.

“There’s no need to spend all this extra money, just help us get more staff,” added Seif.

Nichols echoed Seif’s demand for higher Medicaid reimbursement, along with educational programs to help facilities control and prevent infection themselves before sending out strike teams.

“All operators’ goal should be sustained substantial compliance, and when we have a sustained substantial infection control program, it should be very well defendable in a survey,” noted Nichols.

It looks like a portion of the funding will go toward programs of this sort, with the expansion of Project Firstline; the initiative is designed to keep frontline health care workers informed about infection prevention and control.

The expansion is part of $385 million also to be issued in October.

Other uses for these funds include helping state, local and territorial health departments with infectious disease prevention and control capacity; fund laboratory surveillance for emerging pathogens; and increase data monitoring via National Healthcare Safety network (NHSN); and address health disparities related to antibiotic use.

Weeks out, operators are still in the dark in terms of how exactly this infection control effort will actually play out in their facilities.

“Let’s say the government sends 10 people, right, and then they come, and all they do is report back to the government what I’m doing wrong, per se, then I don’t want them, you know? I really hope it’s not malicious, but it’s something that I think can quickly turn sour,” added Seif.

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