James M. Berklan

It’s going to be interesting when federal authorities finally announce their plan for tracking COVID-19 among nursing homes.

Last weekend, perhaps smelling something in the air, the two major U.S. nursing home associations issued press releases saying that such tracking is needed.

Ever since, the death toll and the public’s views of grim conditions at many facilities have risen sharply.

So will a national attempt at quantifying the carnage be viewed as a lifeline or a noose for providers?

While some aspects of society are intent on scapegoating them, providers themselves are hoping to show that they simply need more help in these unprecedented times. Like supplies and testing with timely results. Their goal is to illustrate that nursing homes, not hospitals, are truly the front line of this battle, as American Health Care Association President and CEO Mark Parkinson put it in a national TV interview last week.

Federal health officials say identifying sources and locations of outbreaks, whether in nursing homes, or elsewhere, is critical to stopping their spread. So as soon as they can iron out details as to what they want reported about nursing home involvement, how and to whom, it will happen. Count on it.

One way or another, we can expect greater permanent scrutiny of nursing homes and their infection control practices. The question is, will added funding and other support follow? Whether for-profit or not, operators are still dependent on government funding for a preponderance of their sustenance.

And as regulators, who this week sounded like they were being held hostage by some of the testing labs that could conduct COVID-19 testing at nursing homes, can tell us: money matters. According to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, the problem wasn’t, and isn’t, a lack of testing capacity out there. There is. Authorities said they can see plenty of it. The problem is that the labs were going to be content to sit on tens of thousands of kits, all but silently mouthing, “Show me the money.”

And show CMS is. It’s essentially doubling reimbursement for the desperately needed testing, from $51 to $100. Hopefully other insurers will too. The question, however, naturally will become, however, if that’s how much it costs during a pandemic, how much should it cost during “regular” time, and why would it be any different?

If only skilled nursing operators could show such brinkmanship. 

Follow Executive Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.