A nursing home’s ability to keep COVID-19 infection and mortality rates low will be the key indicator as to whether it will qualify for slices of $2 billion in newly available federal relief funding.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday released details of the incentive-based payment program. Payments will be based on facility performance in an effort to ensure better outcomes, federal officials said.

“By tying these new funds for nursing homes to outcomes, while providing the support they need to improve quality and infection control, we will help support quality care, slow the spread of the virus, and save lives,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Thursday. 

HHS will use two outcomes to measure providers’ performance: how well they keep coronavirus infection rates and mortality down. Community-level data based on where the facility is located will be used to quantify those performance measures. Data on mortality and infection rates will come from the National Healthcare Safety Network LTCF COVID-19 module, which is populated by provider submissions. 

“The minimum performance that a nursing home must achieve will vary based on its community’s prevalence of the coronavirus, which will be informed by the CDC’s Community Profile Reports and data reported to CMS. HHS will be providing additional information to eligible nursing homes regarding calculations,” an HHS spokeswoman told McKnight’s Thursday evening. 

Providers must have an active state certification as a nursing home or skilled nursing facility and receive reimbursement from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in order to qualify for the payments through the incentive program. They must also report to at least one of three data sources to establish eligibility: Certification and Survey Provider Enhanced Reports (CASPER), Nursing Home Compare (NHC), and Provider of Services (POS).

For those who do qualify, the funding may be paid for any or all of four assessment periods: September, October, November and December. The federal government will make $500 million available each month.