Evan Shulman

Nursing home operators must be ready to prove they provided education and offered both residents and staff the COVID-19 vaccine once enforcement of a new interim rule begins next month. 

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services officials discussed the new rule, how the agency will assess compliance and its enforcement strategy during a Thursday call with nursing home stakeholders. 

The rule, which was released Tuesday, requires long-term care facilities to report weekly COVID-19 vaccination data for residents and staff. It also mandates that providers educate and offer the COVID-19 vaccine to both groups and document those efforts.

“What we’re going to be looking for is evidence for compliance,” Evan Shulman, CMS’ director for its Division of Nursing Homes, said during the call. “The surveyors will begin to ask for perhaps samples of the educational materials that you’re providing, or perhaps a roster of the attendees at an educational session and evidence of offering the vaccine. It’s going to take a couple of weeks for us to update the survey software so you won’t necessarily see this happen immediately, but you will start to see these questions soon.”

The interim rule officials goes into effect on May 21, while enforcement will begin during the week of June 13, according to Shulman. He added that surveyors will also ask for a list of residents and staff that indicates their vaccine status, and they could conduct related interviews. 

“For starters, let’s remember that the intent of this is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he said. “So, we will likely start prioritizing those individuals who are not vaccinated and start asking them how they were educated and if they were offered the vaccine.”

When it comes to reporting vaccination status, Shulman said he hopes providers can fold the new mandate into existing COVID-19 reporting structures. He stresses that providers start sending in their data “as soon as possible.” 

“We will start imposing enforcement actions beginning the week [of] June 13, so if you have not submitted data that week of June 13 you will begin to receive a civil monetary penalty starting with that following week,” he warned. “Please don’t wait. Start reporting now and that way you’re not at the last minute scurrying around to get the report in.”

The data collected will also be posted on the agency’s COVID-19 Nursing Home Data website as soon as possible, likely in mid-June, Shulman added.

“We believe that this is really important information so the entire country can see how nursing homes are doing related to the vaccine penetration, residents and staff getting vaccinated and making sure that we can also direct resources to those areas that maybe we need to help get those vaccine rates up,” Shulman said.