Nursing homes in need of more direct-care workers have received a big boost from federal regulators. 

A rule that says new aides cannot work longer than four months without becoming certified has been waived by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The vital staffing decision was a part of a set of blanket waivers applauded by operators, many of whom are facing staffing shortages as the pandemic continues to create thousands of new COVID-19 patients every day.

Earlier this week, a McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Flash Survey showed that nearly half of respondents (48%) said they had workers “calling in sick due to or exhibiting signs of COVID-19.” Infection and death rates are expected to grow by harrowing amounts over the next two weeks, federal officials warned Tuesday.

“Allowing certified nurse aides to work for over four months with [only] competency assessments, help[s] providers focus on caregiving rather than paperwork, and provide much-needed support a workforce under tremendous strain due to this crisis,” Janine Finck-Boyle, vice president of regulatory affairs for LeadingAge, told McKnight’s

The association previously called on CMS to relax certain training requirements for CNAs in a letter last week. 

The agency noted that facilities still will have to ensure that aides are competent to provide nursing and nursing-related services. They’re also still requiring operators to ensure that nurse aides are able to demonstrate competency in skills and techniques necessary for residents’ needs, as identified through resident assessments, and described in the plan of care.” 

In a memo to providers, the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living provided a temporary nurse-aide training and competency checklist for facilities when they hire temporary workers. It also announced a training course for new aides.

“AHCA/NCAL have been advocating for CMS to issue such a waiver to assist in addressing staffing shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is now allowed on the federal level. State approvals, such as state occupational licensing and state regulatory requirements, may also need to be granted,” the organization stated. 

More than 400 LTCFs hit by COVID-19

About a month after a Washington state skilled nursing facility became the first site of a coronavirus outbreak in the United States, more than 400 long-term care facilities in the country are now confirmed as treating residents for the disease. 

The number of facilities with a resident infected with the coronavirus was just 146 on March 23 — an increase of 172%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency declined to provide the total number of infected residents in the facilities, according to an NBC report

In other coronavirus related news: 

• Researchers at Indiana University’s Regenstrief Institute have published guidance on the best practices for treating seniors with COVID-19. The guidelines discuss who should receive a coronavirus test, when to send a resident to the emergency department and why seniors are at an increased risk for the disease. 

• CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, recently stated that the COVID-19 is “now about three times as infectious as the flu.”

• In brighter news, Toronto Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurseoffered words of encouragement to healthcare workers responding to the coronavirus pandemic in a video with AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson. A Michigan man is collecting unused electronic devices to donate to nursing home residents.