Providers’ staffing totals will be used to address their personal protective equipment needs during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new memo from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In addition money collected from fines will pay for tools that will help residents communicate with their families during the pandemic lockdown.

CMS announced the moves late Friday afternoon, explaining that it will be publishing a list of the average number of staff members onsite at facilities each day. The information will be used to direct adequate PPE and testing to nursing homes.

The agency also is now waiving timeframe requirements for submitting resident assessment data (Minimum Data Set) and staff data (Payroll-Based Journal) by certain deadlines. The waivers won’t impact the updates to the quality measures and staffing domains being used for the April update on the rating system, which is set for Wednesday. 

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said in a statement that the organization was “pleased” with the move. The organization added that it’s still seeking additional clarification from CMS on clinical and financial operations regarding 1135 waivers, however. 

“We are encouraged by the mention about using PBJ data to determine PPE needs. We hope this results in appropriate amounts of PPE for nursing homes who need it urgently,” Smith Sloan said. 

“Additionally, we are pleased that CMP funds can now be used to purchase equipment that can help residents communicate with family members during this time of isolation,” she said.

Star ratings freeze

The CMS  memo also announced a freeze to the inspection domain of nursing homes’ current star ratings on the Nursing Home Compare website following the suspension of certain survey inspections during the coronavirus pandemic. In late March, the agency announced that it would suspend standards surveys for nursing homes and prioritize inspections regarding Immediate Jeopardy, infection control and self-assessments.

In Friday’s memo, the agency said the targeted inspection plan resulted in a great shift in the number of nursing homes inspected and how they’re conducted.  

“This would disrupt the inspection domain of the Nursing Home Five Star Quality Rating System because many nursing homes that would normally be inspected, will not, thereby over-weighting and impacting the ratings of those facilities that are inspected. This could then potentially mislead consumers. Therefore, we will temporarily maintain and hold constant the health inspection domain of the rating system,” the memo stated. 

CMS added that results of health inspections conducted on or after March 4, 2020, will still be posted publicly but not be used to calculate a nursing home’s health inspection star ratings. The memo also answered several frequently asked questions related to the agency’s actions regarding visitation, surveys, waivers and other guidance.