LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan

The nation’s second largest nursing home association has asked the Department of Health and Human Services to reevaluate several of its COVID-19 recommendations for nursing homes, saying they restrict staff from providing care efficiently. 

“As our nation moves into a new phase of the COVID-19 public health emergency, we must allow nursing homes and the residents they serve to move forward too,” Katie Smith Sloan, LeadingAge president and CEO, wrote in a letter to HHS Tuesday. 

LeadingAge specifically called on HHS to eliminate its quarantine recommendation for new admissions and readmissions into nursing homes, and instead recommend quarantine for those who have been identified as having a true, close-contact exposure. 

The group argued that residents being admitted from the hospital were neither tested nor quarantined while there but under this policy are now subject to both based “simply on the discrepancy between recommendations for nursing homes and those for other healthcare settings.” The restrictions can also hurt resident satisfaction and how well they assimilate into their nursing home placement. 

“This quarantine creates barriers to care for residents who are admitted for skilled rehabilitation therapy as restriction to their rooms leaves them unable to address therapy goals such as walking long distances, climbing stairs, or practicing car transfers,” Sloan argued. 

LeadingAge also called on HHS to allow healthcare personnel to continue working following high-risk exposure, regardless of staffing capacity, if the staffer doesn’t develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19. The group also urged the elimination of routine screening testing of asymptomatic staff to save on limited testing resources. 

“Nursing homes must restrict from work for up to 10 days any staff who are not up to date with COVID-19 vaccination and have been identified as having a high-risk exposure. With the updated definition of ‘up to date,’ this means restricting from work any staff who are aged 50 years and older and have not received a second booster,” Sloan said.

“This impacts a larger pool of the workforce than previous age-related booster recommendations at a time when we simply cannot afford to lose the staff,” she wrote.

That situation results in nursing homes scrambling to cover shifts amid a workforce shortage and possibly forcing providers to close or deny admissions when workers are stretched too thin, she said.

“Continuing to endorse and enforce these nursing home recommendations and requirements mean[s] that well residents will be isolated, well staff will be restricted from providing care, and nursing homes will continue to be more a more restrictive living and working environment than other healthcare settings despite being a safer environment than at the outset of the pandemic,” Sloan concluded.