Federal lawmakers recommended that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services should revisit its infection control policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s severe impact on nursing homes. 

The Senate Finance Committee released a comprehensive report last week, detailing what steps could have prevented COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes. It also offered strategies to stem the trend, now and for any future crises.

The committee report found several failures between the federal government, states and providers when it came to nursing homes. 

Some of those missteps included not properly following federal infection control guidance to reduce transmission, personal protective equipment and testing shortages, states not conducting periodic inspections, staffing shortages and employees working in multiple facilities, and not properly isolating COVID-positive residents. 

Administration defended

“Any suggestion that coronavirus-related deaths in nursing facilities are attributable solely, or even primarily, to acts or omissions by the current administration falls well short of addressing the multifaceted problems in this sector,” the committee said in a statement. 

“Such a one-dimensional approach necessarily overlooks several factors that fueled the outbreak of COVID-19 in nursing homes across the United States, and around the world. Minimizing, or devoting scant attention to such factors, makes it enormously difficult for members of Congress to come together in support of long-overdue reforms and bipartisan solutions to the complex problems facing nursing homes today,” the group added. 

Successful provider strategies included ending in-person visitation early on and requesting staff members to not work at multiple facilities, the report found. 

Successful facilities also had adequate PPE, strong infection control procedures, effective cohorting strategies, daily screening policies, intermittent testing of staff and good communication with local government and family members. State strike teams also were an effective tool. 

 “Many nursing homes have instituted measures, during the national emergency period, which proved helpful in curbing the spread of the virus, stretching thin supplies of PPE, and reassuring residents’ family members,” the report states. “Such measures would be even more meaningful if all facilities and State officials followed their lead.”

Other recommendations included widely implementing strike teams to aid states and providers, the continuance of submitting payroll data to CMS to monitor potential staffing shortages, giving nursing homes access to the National Practitioner Data Bank system to screen employees, and for Congress to examine racial disparities in nursing homes. 

The latest research from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that there have been more than 80,000 deaths and nearly 500,000 coronavirus cases in long-term care.