The COVID-19 pandemic is striking nursing homes residents especially hard for several reasons. The residents are most prone to contracting the disease because of their advanced age and because many have existing health risks including diabetes, COPD, and heart disease. In addition, the risk of contagion is increased because the residents are in close proximity to each other which makes it easier to transmit the disease from one patient to another.

According to Business Insider, the World Health Organization reports that nearly 50% of the people who died due to COVID-19 were residents of long-term care facilities. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, COVID-19 is disproportionally affecting long-term care residents and workers. In America, there are:

  • 3 million people in nursing homes
  • 800,000 in assisted living facilities
  • 75,000 in intermediate care facilities
  • 3 million individuals who work in nursing home and residential care facilities

It’s especially heartbreaking to learn that a nursing home resident has developed COVID-19 due to the inability of family to be with the loved one while he/she is fighting the disease.

The District of Columbia maintains a list of its nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. However, the greater D.C. Metro area has many more nursing homes, and at least 2,000 cases among residents have been reported.

CMS nursing home and COVID-19 guidelines

In response to the increased risk to nursing home residents and workers, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issues new recommendations for long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

  1. Nursing homes should take steps to comply with CMS and CDC infection control guidance including:
    1. Appropriate hand hygiene
    2. Adherence to a self-assessment checklist
    3. Reference to CDC’s guidance on COVID-19 and conservation of personal protective equipment “when unable to follow the long-term care facility guidance.”
  2. CMS is urging states and local leaders to “consider the needs of long-term care facilities with respect to supplies of PPE and COVID-19 test.” Medicare should now be covering COVID-19 testing for eligible beneficiaries by labs that are certified.
  3. Nursing homes should implement symptom screening for everyone. This includes residents, staff, outside healthcare workers, visitors, and vendors – who should be asked about their symptoms and should have their temperature checked before entering a facility. Entry point s should be limited.
  4. Nursing home facilities should ensure that staff members are using “appropriate PPE when they are interacting with patients and residents, to the extent PPE is available” and follows CDC conservation guidelines. During the coronavirus pandemic, personnel in long-term care facilities must wear a facemask while they are in the facility. Patients and residents who need to routinely leave the facility for medical care must wear facemasks when not in their rooms.
  5. Separate staffing should be used for patients who test positive for COVID-19. Separate units should be set aside for COVID-19 positive residents, those who status Is not known, and residents with negative test results.

Other recommendations are also set forth in the new guidelines.