Providers take issue with Trump’s budget
President Trump, shown at an earlier briefing, announced expanded funding for nursing home COVID-19 mitigation efforts Wednesday.

The administration will be more than doubling funding dedicated directly to nursing homes to fight the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to an additional $5 billion announced by President Trump at a briefing Wednesday.

The $5 billion will be spread around the nation and providers will become eligible by participating in an online infection control training program. Twenty-three learning modules in the program will teach, among other things, cohorting strategies and promote the use of telehealth, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services explained in a statement Wednesday. 

Trump foreshadowed Wednesday’s announcement in comments delivered Tuesday in his first coronavirus briefing in more than three months, as earlier reported by McKnight’s Long-Term Care News

The Department of Health and Human Services will devote $5 billion of the Provider Relief Fund authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to Medicare-certified long-term care facilities and state veterans’ homes, with the goal of building nursing home skills and enhancing nursing homes’ response, CMS said.

The new Provider Relief Fund dollars announced Wednesday will come in addition to a specific $4.9 billion round of funding previously assigned exclusively to nursing homes. Skilled nursing operators also are in line to receive smaller funding packages under the aegis of the $2 trillion CARES Act package.

“Nursing homes in higher risk areas will be receiving more funding,” Trump said Wednesday. “This money can be used to address critical needs, including the hiring of additional staff, increasing testing and providing technology support so residents can connect to their families.”

“Mentorship” programs with subject matter experts also will come into play with the new funding, CMS announced.

The agency also said it will begin “requiring, rather than recommending, that all nursing homes in states with a 5% positivity rate or greater test all nursing home staff each week.” It said it believes such a move can slow the spread of COVID-19 through asymptomatic carriers working at facilities.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma, however, noted that imposing such a requirement would first have to go through formal rulemaking. She told reporters that this will occur “very shortly” but declined to be more specific on the timing.

More than 600 point-of-care testing devices will be shipped to nursing homes in hotspots this week, CMS also announced. It is less than one-third the number announced last week when HHS first unveiled its intention to equip every nursing home in the country with point-of-care devices, but that overarching goal remains in effect over the next several months, federal health officials said.

CMS also announced Wednesday that a first round of Task Force Strike Teams had been sent to some nursing homes that showed a rise in COVID-19 cases in Illinois, Florida, Louisiana Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas from Saturday to Monday to “provide onsite technical assistance and education to nursing homes experiencing outbreaks.” The teams comprised clinicians and public health service professionals from CMS, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health.

CMS and the CDC are jointly rolling out the 23-module online, self-paced Nursing Home COVID-19 training program focused on infection control and best practices. Facilities are encouraged to post government-provided verification “badges” on their websites to show proof of completion of the courses.

CMS also announced that the administration will be releasing a list of nursing homes showing an increase in COVID-19 cases on a weekly basis as part of a weekly governor’s report. This will be done to “ensure states have the information needed to target their support to the highest risk nursing homes,” the agency said. When a nursing home has three or more cases of COVID-19, the state will be alerted.

Providers respond

The leader of the largest nursing home association in the U.S. applauded the new-funding announcement in a statement Wednesday night.

“We appreciate the administration sending this much-needed funding to our nursing homes to help ensure our facilities have the personal protective equipment (PPE), access to testing and staffing needed to keep our residents and caregivers safe,” said Mark Parkinson, the president and CEO of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living. “This funding is an important step forward for nursing homes in our fight against this deadly virus.”

He also repeated a push for an additional $100 billion relief fund from the administration for all providers.

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan also welcomed the additional dollars headed toward nursing homes but said she still wants to see a more fully integrated effort from the administration.

“Tonight’s announcement of $5 billion for nursing homes from the Provider Relief Fund is a good next step, but any effort must be backed by a coordinated national plan that will help protect millions of older adults,” she said in a statement. “There are important unanswered questions about this program, including how far this funding will go to support the new mandate of increased staff testing. We look forward to learning more.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for further developments.