A vaccine passport
Credit: Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images Plus

Surveyors who are not fully vaccinated and don’t have a COVID-19 vaccine exemption should not participate as part of the onsite survey team when inspecting certified providers, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. 

New guidance released Tuesday by the agency also states that unvaccinated surveyors may be used at the state survey agency’s or an accrediting organization’s (AO) discretion for offsite survey or enforcement actions. 

The announcement comes after long-term care providers pushed CMS to require surveyors to be fully vaccinated before going into facilities.  

“Current performance and timeliness standards for state survey agencies and AOs remain, and consideration will not be provided for failures to meet these expectations due to a lack of vaccinated surveyors to complete the mandated workload,” the agency wrote in the memo. 

Surveyors who do have a COVID-19 vaccination exemption may continue surveying but must also use additional safeguards, such as mandatory testing and limitations on patient/resident contact. All surveyors are also expected to use personal protective equipment while surveying. 

“The state Survey agencies and AOs are ultimately responsible for compliance with this expectation. Therefore, certified providers and suppliers are not permitted to ask surveyors for proof of their vaccination status as a precondition for entry,” CMS reemphasized. 

The agency did not state why the guidance did not come earlier but acknowledged in its summary that a unified federal policy update was needed. It added that the guidance covers CLIA and Life Safety Code surveyors, among others, entering provider and supplier locations.

“While many state survey agencies and [AOs] have taken early action to implement their own surveyor vaccination requirements, national guidance is necessary to maintain the safety of surveyors as well as of staff and patients/residents within the certified providers and suppliers they inspect as part of CMS’ vital oversight and enforcement mission,” the agency memo noted.

Questions about the process a state or AO is using to implement this guidance should be addressed to the state survey agency or accrediting organization, CMS said.