Industry advocates are calling for renewed federal investment into clinical oversight and infection control as part of a sweeping nursing home reform proposal.

AHCA President and CEO Mark Parkinson

The Care For Our Seniors Act, put forth by the American Health Care Association and LeadingAge in a Monday press briefing, seeks to address systemic issues in the nursing home sector that have been laid bare during the pandemic, including infection control deficits and inconsistent clinical care quality.

The reform agenda proposes federal reinvestment to the tune of $15 billion a year. Under the proposal, those funds would go to the states, which in turn would be mandated to direct them to facilities, the organizations said. Of the total, an estimated $11 billion would help support clinical requirements that each nursing home have a registered nurse on staff, 24 hours per day, and a 30-day minimum supply of personal protective equipment on hand at all times, said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA. 

An investment in nurse recruitment is another key component of the agenda, said David Gifford, M.D., AHCA’s senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs. Research has consistently shown a relationship between registered nurse hours and outcomes, he said. The same goes for the long-standing problem of staff retention, he added. More incentives, such as tax incentives, direct loan forgiveness, subsidies to universities and colleges are critical, or these workers “are snapped up by other providers and we are left not as a priority.”

Katie Smith-Sloan, Hall of Honor
LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan

“To effect these changes, we need to professionalize the direct care workforce to attract more people to the field,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge. “The long-term care workforce is our most valuable asset and our most critical challenge.”

The clinical funds also would support enhanced infection control, not only for COVID-19, but for ongoing prevention and control of other viral or bacterial outbreaks, Gifford explained. Mandated infection preventionists would ideally be assigned to each nursing home based on the number of residents, resident acuity and diagnoses, and the facility’s relationship with hospital partners, he said. 

Proper infection control is not possible without the resources to ensure a continued supply of PPE, Gifford added. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we are caught flat-footed again,” he said of the proposed 30-day supply mandate.

The move would be costly, but it’s long overdue, according to the advocates. “With a growing elderly population soon needing our services, the moment is now,” Parkinson said. The nursing home sector has faced low Medicaid reimbursements for years, and with the added burden of COVID-19 expenses, each policy proposal must include government resources, the groups insisted.

The decline in COVID-19 cases and deaths post-vaccination shows what can happen when nursing home residents are made a priority by policymakers, concluded Parkinson. With appropriate reinvestment, “we can significantly improve the quality of care for our current residents and generations to come.”

Visit McKnight’s Long-Term Care News and the McKnight’s Business Daily on the McKnight’s Senior Living website for more perspective on the additional Care For Our Seniors Act provisions and details regarding operations oversight, aging physical plants and underfunded government reimbursements for care.