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CMS Takes Measures to Help Nursing Homes in Fight Against COVID-19

Published March 18, 2020

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As nursing homes across the country face dramatically increased risk for coronavirus (COVID-19) infection cases, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is taking critical measures to keep residents safe. 

How is Medicare protecting nursing homes during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?

The CMS announced the following actions on March 13 to be implemented immediately:

  • Nursing home visitors will be restricted, with some exceptions such as end-of-life situations.

  • All volunteers and nonessential health care personnel will be restricted.

  • All group activities and communal dining will be cancelled.

  • Residents and health care personnel will be actively screened for fever and respiratory symptoms consistent with COVID-19. 

During permitted end-of-life visitations, visitors will be equipped with personal protective equipment, and the visit will be limited to a specific room. 

Older adults are at increased risk for serious COVID-19 infection and illness

The nursing home protective measures being taken by the CMS are based on recommendations put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Older adults – especially those who have underlying health conditions – are at the highest risk of severe symptoms and death from COVID-19 infection. Nursing homes have become a source of outbreaks across the country because of this elevated risk.

“As we learn more about the Coronavirus from experts on the ground, we’ve learned that seniors with multiple conditions are at highest risk for infection and complications, so CMS is using every tool at our disposal to keep nursing homes free from infection,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

“Temporarily restricting visitors and nonessential workers will help reduce the risk of Coronavirus spread in nursing homes, keeping residents safe.” – Seema Verma, CMS Administrator1

Additional nursing home recommendations from the CDC include:

  • Stock every room and common area with alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Ensure sinks are well-stocked with soap and paper towels
  • Make face masks and tissues available to people who are coughing or sneezing
  • Make personal protective equipment available in areas where resident care is provided
  • Ensure hospital-grade disinfectants are available for frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces and shared equipment

The CDC also prepared a checklist of things that nursing homes can do to develop a COVID-19 response plan.

The checklist items include:

  • Rapidly identifying and managing sick residents
  • Adjusting considerations for visitors and consulting staff
  • Having adequate supplies and resources
  • Implementing sick leave policies and other occupational health considerations
  • Administering special education and training for staff
  • Increasing to surge capacity for staffing, equipment and supplies  

CMS is encouraging nursing homes to utilize virtual communication to help residents communicate with their families and to keep outsiders informed of their loved one’s care.

These measures include regular outbound communication and assigning staff members as primary contacts for inbound communications.