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Nursing home operators are used to facing increasingly complex reporting requirements, so it comes as no small delight to them that officials could soon be dialing back on what’s mandated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be requiring less from providers regarding COVID-related data by June, reps told provider officials. 

“Throughout the life of COVID reporting in (the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network), there have been data elements that have had further breakdown elements,” said LeadingAge’s Director of Nursing Home Quality and Policy Jodi Eyigor in an email to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Tuesday. 

“For example, nursing homes report on the number of positive COVID tests for the week. At one point, the positive tests were further broken down by test type — antigen test vs. NAAT. When data on the type of test became less relevant, CDC streamlined this data element by eliminating the test type breakdown, and nursing homes now report on just the total number of positive tests.”

Eyigor told listeners on a LeadingAge COVID conference call this week that federal regulators acknowledged at a closed door meeting Thursday that they are considering lightening the reporting requirements. They just hadn’t decided specifically what might be eliminated, and when, though June was a discussed goal.

Not coincidentally, the federal designation of the COVID-19 public health emergency will end May 11.

Providers influence regulators

The upcoming changes will streamline reporting, based partly on recommendations made by LeadingAge and others, which is “great news,” Eyigor noted.

“(Regulators) are planning to remove or change some of the data elements that aren’t producing meaningful data. Either the numbers are too low or the numbers haven’t changed at all, so it’s not really telling us anything about COVID-19 in nursing homes any more,” she noted. “Or the data may be useful, except that it’s not being used, so there’s no benefit to nursing homes. (Or)  it’s not being used by the administration to help support initiatives, so it’s things like that.”

At the “very informal” meeting with CDC reps last week, Eyigor said, “We also reminded CDC of the opportunities to gather date from other sources, as we have several times throughout the public health emergency.”

That would include data submitted to public health departments. Nursing homes have reporting requirements to notify the health department when there are three or more sets of symptoms or infections among residents and staff, so this would be a good place where CDC could continue to gather data on respiratory infections, even if those elements would be no longer reported through NHSN, Eyigor said.

“We hope to be able to report some good news in the coming weeks and months,” she added.

GAO’s infection control concerns

Eyigor also discussed the ongoing effect of a March 20 report from the General Accountability Office on infection control practices. The results seemed in line with other recent reports, she said.

GAO investigators came up with six actions that HHS should concentrate on, among them: using HSN reporting, emphasizing Infection prevention and control, and the utilization of strike teams. 

There were also seven actions that GAO thought HHS should enhance, including: emergency preparedness requirements, infection prevention control and training, and the use of non-monetary enforcement actions on nursing homes. To no one’s surprise, the extended limits on visitations and group activities were recommended for spiking.

“On the one hand, it’s good that many of these recommendations sound very familiar — there are no surprises,” Eyigor told listeners on the conference call.

“On the other hand, the more voices that add to the chorus, the louder the chorus gets, (and) the more likely it is that we’re going to see action from this,” she said. “So we need to kind of be reading the tea leaves on these, and keep in mind that things like NHSN reporting, infection prevention and control, and emergency preparedness are getting a lot of attention lately from all different sources throughout the administration. So we should keep an eye out for changes to them.”