Kimberly Marselas

This week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services presented some 2,500 nursing homes with quite a gift: an additional seven days to avoid a fine for missing a new vaccination reporting deadline.

Who says regulators are all about meting out punishments?

CMS has yet to postulate publicly on why so many nursing homes (about 17% of all those in the U.S.) failed to report data showing what share of their residents and staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Comments during a provider webinar Monday made it sound as though some facilities might need additional technical help, although as of this writing, CMS had yet to publicize how support for the data-unsavvy might come. 

Whatever the reason for their delays, those 2,500 providers now have until the end of Sunday, June 20, to report or pay up.

Now, to the 13,000 or so who got their act together on time, I’d like to say thanks for meeting one. more. deadline. amid so much COVID-era bureaucracy.

Thousands of patients and families searching for placements also likely thank you for your transparency about what, for many, will be a critical factor in identifying a short- or long-term care home.

Presenting transparency

A few months back — in the midst of all the excitement around the federal vaccine partnership and the rollout of the first few rounds of shouts — we got fairly regular updates on vaccination uptake. But then the partnership moved toward its end in March, and the news dried up.

Without CVS and Walgreens issuing updates, we had no way to know how well our country was doing in ensuring that vulnerable seniors living in congregate housing were continuing to receive needed doses.

And then I wrote a story in April that floored me: Despite all the success those first shots led to in reducing cases and deaths, pockets of nursing homes across the country were seeing vaccination coverage wane. In some places, the fall-off was dramatic even among residents, many of whom still wanted shots but couldn’t get them quickly.

Maryland stood up boldly and declared that the Old Line state would create its own dashboard to track activity there. CMS, not to be outdone of course, followed days later with its own reporting requirement.

While providers already had been pursuing a 75% vaccination goal among staff (and doing their best to maintain resident rates that initially trended much higher than that), not all were eager to report their data and have it posted on the CMS COVID-19 Nursing Home Data website.

Admittedly, providers remain challenged by a workforce that is still hesitant to get vaccinated, despite nearly 145 MILLION people having been fully vaccinated, safely, in the U.S. alone. Those providers might fear their reputations will be smeared by their workers’ unwillingness to seek protection.

But patients and families deserve to know vaccination-coverage rates. They also deserve to have the data easily, not to be forced to track down someone at every individual home who is authorized to share it and is willing to return a phone call.

The reporting mandate, as CMS itself has said, might lead to additional support and interventions in areas or facilities that need help with their ongoing vaccination efforts. It could encourage low-performing companies (or even entire states) to change or adopt policies that improve vaccine uptake. 

And mandated, public reporting is the best way to keep the industry accountable as new residents continue to need shots or potential boosters in the months ahead. For many consumers, having a complete data set may be the best gift this side of reopening for visits.

For those of you still working on uploading a first round of data to the National Healthcare Safety Network (or dragging your feet because you fear the implications of being outed), it’s time to seal up the package. When the numbers hit, be prepared to dress them up with the best bow you can: an honest explanation about how you’ve been ensuring access to shots and addressing vaccine hesitancy and a promise to do better.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.