Liza Berger headshot
Liza Berger

The coronavirus is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving — to nursing homes, in particular.

Like other aspects of this crisis, the latest offering — heightened enforcement for infection control deficiencies up to $20,000 — is a present many nursing homes would gladly return.

It was hard not to take Monday’s disclosure as another setback for the field. After all, nursing homes were not exactly living it up the last two months. The numbers tell the tale: 26,000 resident deaths, 450 worker deaths, 60,000 sick residents and 34,400 ill workers, all due to COVID-19, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Then let’s not forget the frustration of handling outbreaks with minimal personal protective equipment and testing, dealing with upset family members possibly threatening lawsuits, decreased census, a hammering in the media, numerous operational challenges. Oh, so much fun!

And now the latest news — icing on the COVID cake, if you will — gives consumers a clear target. It helps to justify that the enemy is not a virulent, insidious virus that has caught everyone off-guard and preys on those with compromised immune systems, but rather your local nursing home that is committing widespread neglect. Never mind that the Government Accountability Office recently released a report that found that each year nearly 99% of infection control deficiencies were not severe, meaning that residents were not harmed. Like a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, we have to blame someone or something for the ill preparation and poor response to this pandemic.

As usual, leaders of the nursing home provider association summed it up best.

“This situation will get worse if surveyors are only looking for reasons to find deficiencies and issue fines instead of identifying ways for nursing homes to make real changes and help them improve their infection control programs,” said Mark Parkinson, CEO and president of the American Health Care Association, the nation’s largest nursing home association. “It’s time to recognize that when nursing homes receive citations, it’s a failure not just of the provider, but of CMS and the survey process as well. Citations and fines without assistance will not help us keep residents and staff safe from this virus.”

Of course, nursing homes are used to playing the ass, but as Parkinson suggests, we are all in this together. Only as a result of cooperation and collaboration can we then tell COVID-19 that the party’s over.

Liza Berger is Senior Editor at McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.