Nursing homes that participate in infection control training will be eligible for a portion of the $5 billion in additional pandemic relief promised Wednesday by the White House, health officials say. Weekly staff testing also may be a requirement.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma
CMS Administrator Seema Verma at a news conference last week

The $5 billion comes from the Provider Relief Fund authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It doubles the amount of federal pandemic relief earmarked for nursing homes and will go directly to Medicare-certified long-term care facilities and state veterans’ homes. The aim is to help build provider skills and enhance nursing homes’ COVID-19 response, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said in a Wednesday statement

To qualify for CARES Act assistance, nursing homes will be required to take part in CMS’s online Nursing Home COVID-19 Training. The 23 self-paced, on-demand modules (along with training that already is in place) will teach techniques such as cohorting strategies and promote technology use such as telehealth, Verma explained. 

The news comes days after Health and Human Services officials said it would begin deploying point-of-care COVID-19 testing equipment to COVID-19 hotspots, addressing nursing homes’ spotty access to tests and test diagnostics. In line with that initiative, CMS said it plans to begin requiring all nursing homes in states with a 5% COVID-19 positivity rate or greater to test their staff members weekly. 

“This new staff testing requirement will enhance efforts to keep the virus from entering and spreading through nursing homes by identifying asymptomatic carriers,” Verma said. But the agency must issue a final rule before that requirement goes into effect, she added.

Industry advocates were pleased yet cautious against a backdrop of U.S. diagnostic laboratories buckling under a surge of COVID-19 testing demands. 

“There are important unanswered questions about this program, including how far this funding will go to support the new mandate of increased staff testing,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, in response to the announcements. “We look forward to learning more.”

American Health Care Association President and CEO Mark Parkinson expressed optimism that the funding could assist nursing homes in battling rising infections. But just a day earlier, he had publicly called for a $100 billion provider fund.

Smith Sloan called for a coordinated national plan.

“Is this yet another patch in the patchwork federal response we’ve seen from the administration so far? Or is this announcement a signal that real relief is on its way?” she asked.