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What Nursing Homes Should be Doing Regarding COVID-19

Since the COVID-19 virus has invaded America our world has been turned upside down. Turn on the television and it seems like there is nothing but bad news. We have all been affected by the COVID-19 virus in one way or another. Some who have had the virus didn’t even know they had it. Outside of a little fatigue, they’ve experienced no symptoms. It’s a different story, however, for those over the age of 60, the senior population  among us. Particularly hard hit have been the nursing homes all across the country. They have been devastated!

What were the authorities thinking when those senior patients who had suffered from the virus where placed back in the nursing homes? Hopefully, we have grown from that initial experience and nursing homes have adapted to the new standards we must now implement due to COVID-19.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have issued newly enforceable guidelines for all nursing homes. Adhering to these new guidelines will help protect our loved ones living in nursing homes. These guidelines are listed below.

First, nursing homes must announce to residents, family members and representatives of any COVID-19 cases and report these findings to the CDC. This will allow the authorities to track the spread of the virus and curtail it before it spreads further. This allows us to detect potential outbreaks at the local level.

Second, nursing homes are to restrict all visitors with the exception of medical staff and those providing compassionate care such as end of life visits. These essential visitors must be screened before entering the nursing home. This certainly requires sacrifice on the part of residents and family but we have seen positive results when and where this restriction has been put in place. CMS has also issued guidelines for phasing into re-opening the facilities. We hope sooner rather than later.

Third, inspectors from each state must implement a new focused infection control inspection process as opposed to their former general inspections. Nursing homes will be accountable for compliance and measured on preparedness to respond to the COVID-19 threat. These inspections will indicate facilities that must improve in areas such as hand washing processes, separating infected residents from non-infected residents and the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Fourth, nursing homes and state and local governments are to place an emphasis on infection control duties and getting leaders to work jointly and partnering with nursing homes to access testing and PPE. This action hopes to accomplish local execution, state managed and federally supported. In addition, CMS is doubling the payment for some lab testing that will enable large numbers of people to be rapidly tested for COVID-19 en mass. Not only that but the Trump administration is distributing almost 5 billion dollars to Medicare and Medicaid certified facilities to address the pandemic and to send extra shipments of PPE as is necessary.

Finally, CMS has announced a new independent commission with input from families and residents that will document and measure the response of nursing homes to the COVID-19 pandemic to find ways to improve effectiveness.

The Trump administration and CMS believes these new guidelines, that are unprecedented, will help our golden age citizens to have some peace in this turbulent world we live in.

Bill Burke, 7/24/2020