The COVID-19 pandemic sharpened the focus on infection prevention and control efforts in nursing homes. Now, a panel convened by the Government Accountability Office has identified 14 infection prevention and control actions in nursing homes for the Department of Health and Human Services to continue, enhance or discontinue. 

According to the GAO panel’s report, HHS should continue:

  • Requiring data reporting to the National Healthcare Safety Network
  • Emphasizing and prioritizing infection prevention and control
  • Prioritizing nursing homes for resources
  • Using strike teams
  • Considering granting federal flexibilities in future emergencies
  • Issuing stakeholder communication and briefings

Actions HHS should enhance, according to the report:

  • Developing staffing solutions
  • Strengthening mandatory infection prevention and control training
  • Increasing infection prevention and control technical assistance
  • Strengthening the use of nonmonetary enforcement actions

• Ensuring consistent guidance

• Incentivizing infection prevention and control research

• Strengthening emergency preparedness

The report also advised HHS to discontinue extended use of limitations on visitation and group activities.

The GAO noted that many of the recommended actions are consistent with the office’s prior recommendations made to HHS to improve infection prevention and control. The GAO added that the actions it recommended are not listed in any specific rank or order.

The members of the roundtable represented a range of perspectives on nursing homes and infection prevention and control, including those of researchers and infectious disease specialists, nursing home staff members, individuals with nursing home oversight and regulatory experience, and representatives for residents and their families. The GAO also interviewed officials from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“HHS’s continued leadership in prioritizing infection prevention and control — in coordination with other federal, state, and private entities — is critical to better protect nursing home residents from the enduring risks of declining health and premature death posed by infections,” the GAO report stated. “The actions identified by GAO’s expert roundtable may, for example, assist HHS in addressing prior recommendations from GAO and others, presenting new solutions, or expanding on current efforts.”