A nurse treating a COVID-19 patient
Credit: Marko Geber/Getty Images Plus

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is warning providers to begin retiring unnecessary COVID-related emergency waivers as the potential end of the public health emergency declaration approaches.

“We are confident that restoring the minimum standards for compliance with CMS requirements is really the right direction we should be going in,” said Jean Moody-Williams, deputy director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality. “It’s the right thing for our residents, for staff and for the system overall.”

Moody-Williams issued the warning during a stakeholder call with nursing homes on Wednesday while discussing COVID-19 PHE declaration. During the conference call, agency leaders also discussed new changes to the National Health Care Safety Network.

The Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month extended the PHE declaration through July 15. With the extension, COVID-19 regulatory waivers, such as exceptions to the three-day stay rule and telehealth flexibilities, will be around at least through mid-July.

“While I cannot obviously speak to when the PHE will end, we are beginning to think about what actions we should be taking now, even before the end of the PHE,” Moody-Williams said. 

She said CMS’ use of emergency waivers and guidance offered healthcare providers the flexibility needed to respond to the pandemic. Since their implementation, the agency has seen a steady increase in vaccination rates among residents and staff, and overall improvements in nursing homes’ ability to respond to an outbreak. 

Moody-Williams added while some waivers are already set to expire, the expectation is that most will end at the conclusion of the PHE “unless it’s made permanent through a regulation or some other provision.” 

CMS announced early this month that a handful of waivers will be retired on both May 7 and June 7. 

“That said, if you no longer need the flexibility that is still active — and this is the case of any disaster or emergency situation, not just the pandemic — we encourage that once you no longer need it, that you then begin to phase it out and not utilize it,” Moody-Williams said.

“We will keep you posted, as well, as things go along,” she said.