Maryland long-term care providers are welcoming a new mandate that requires providers to report weekly COVID vaccination data to the state’s Department of Health. 

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced the new health order on Tuesday as part of an overall effort to encourage nursing homes and congregate care workers to get vaccinated. New state data released Tuesday showed that 76.5% of the state’s skilled nursing residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 63.1% of SNF staffers are.

Joe DeMattos, president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, on Tuesday stressed the need to increase vaccinations among workers in SNFs, rehabilitation centers and assisted living facilities. 

“I didn’t know quite what to expect on Dec. 23 when we got those first vaccines going and we’ve traveled so far between now and then,” DeMattos said while speaking alongside the governor during a press conference.  “But, the reality is we’ve got so far to go still.” 

He added that the long-term care industry is “fully committed to this endeavor.” 

“The biggest thing that anybody can do to get to some sense of normalcy is to get that vaccine into your arm as quickly as you can,” DeMattos said. 

Maryland’s mandate comes after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services put forward a new SNF Quality Reporting Program measure as part of its Skilled Nursing Facility Prospective Payment System proposal for fiscal year 2022. 

The proposed rule would require skilled nursing facilities to report staff COVID-19 vaccination rates to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Healthcare Safety Network starting Oct. 1. Currently, staff vaccination reporting is voluntary.

“Given the novel nature of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the significant and immediate risk it poses in SNFs, we believe it is necessary to propose the measure as soon as possible,” CMS wrote. “This proposed measure has the potential to generate actionable data on vaccination rates that can be used to target quality improvement among SNF providers.” 

Some providers have been already reporting staff data to NHSN, and more have begun doing so since CMS announced its proposal. Several states are tracking vaccination rates on their own, and it’s unclear whether mandated NHSN reporting would duplicate or feed into those efforts.

The NHSN system also continues to evolve. In a call with stakeholders Monday, CDC officials said they would be refining data elements. Janine Finck-Boyle of LeadingAge told members during a COVID-19 webinar that the goal is to “streamline reporting and create greater clarity.”

Changes include eliminating the need to report previous positive tests; using the VAERS system to report any adverse reactions; and designating employees who haven’t worked in the facility frequently. CDC will host a training for providers on May 11.