Nursing home resident sitting on the side of her bed

The White House’s nursing home reform plan will help facilities avoid uncontrolled infectious disease outbreaks, such as those that affected thousands of residents and staff during the pandemic, according to an advocate for alternative long-term care settings.

The proposed phase-out of multiple-occupancy rooms is crucial to helping prevent the unchecked spread of disease, the Green House Project said in a statement last week.

“Undignified and institutional before COVID, shared nursing home rooms are infection-control liabilities in our new pandemic normal,” it stated in a call to embrace President Joe Biden’s proposed changes

Under the administration’s plan, unveiled in February, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will “explore ways to accelerate” reducing the number of rooms with three or more residents — which remain the standard option — while promoting single-occupancy rooms. 

Private room requirement

The pandemic has highlighted the need to take bold action by making private rooms a requirement of participation in Medicare and Medicaid, said the Green House Project, a national nonprofit that promotes and sells the concept of the small-home model of skilled nursing and post-acute care.

Such a move would functionally eliminate shared units nationwide by removing any financial incentive to maintain them, the organization said. 

The blueprint for such an endeavor already exists in the stalled Nursing Home Accountability and Improvement Act of 2021, it contends. That’s a $1.3 billion demonstration program that would fund new small-home nursing campuses through renovations or completely new construction.

Some nursing home leaders have said that attempting to simply break all of existing, larger nursing homes into clusters of smaller buildings would be prohibitively expensive and difficult otherwise, logistically.

In any case, decades of “misaligned incentives and ineffective policies” made the illness and death that has occurred in U.S. long-term care facilities during the pandemic unavoidable, GHP said. 

“We can never undo the harm that residents, families, and workers have experienced in the wake of COVID and poor care in nursing homes,” said Susan Ryan, senior director of GHP. “But we can honor them by refusing to fall back on old patterns and excuses, and instead joining the administration’s call for reform.”

Read the latest stories about the small homes movement in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.