The federal government could put nursing home residents and workers at risk if it decides to open facility doors to visitors too soon, a leading expert warned Tuesday.

Howard Gleckman
Howard Gleckman

Forbes columnist Howard Gleckman said that facilities could be in danger of more outbreaks if visitors are allowed back into nursing homes too soon. It comes after a report that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is considering a reopening plan for nursing homes despite the coronavirus pandemic’s devastation in the sector. 

Gleckman suggested the move could be an opportunity for the federal government to shift the blame to providers. Operators reluctant to reopen also could be forced to deny resident family members’ visits, thereby opening them up to criticism from relatives. 

“Like the administration’s move to shift responsibility for reopening businesses to states, this also would put the burden of deciding who is allowed to visit on states, as well as on facilities themselves. And it would create White House deniability when angry family members confront management of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, demanding to be let in,” Gleckman wrote. 

“If a facility turns relatives away, it is the facility’s fault. If it lets people in, and cases accelerate, it is the facility’s fault,” he added wryly.. 

Gleckman said that although residents are “paying a severe price for being isolated,” it doesn’t make sense to allow visitors again without ensuring providers have adequate and immediate testing and personal protective equipment. He suggested the decision to reopen facilities should be “based on careful benchmarks that all parties adhere to.” 

“The US has failed to establish coherent, enforceable protocols for much of its COVID-19 response. It would be a tragedy if it fails to do so when it comes to opening up long-term care facilities that have seen so much death already,” he wrote. 

Erin Shvetzoff Hennessey, CEO of Health Dimensions Group, told McKnight’s that providers want to ensure plans for reopening nursing homes include “what we know as providers is needed to do this safely: testing, funding, sufficient PPE and support of our profession.”

In other coronavirus-related news:

House Democrats announced a new, $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill on Tuesday. The bill would include a $200 billion fund for essential worker hazard pay and $100 billion in grants for providers to reimburse their healthcare-related expenses.

In brighter news, after their Mother’s Day parade for their grandmother who lives at a Missouri skilled nursing facility was canceled, a family still made the most of the holiday by singing and playing songs outside of her window.