On Mar 13, 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced critical new measures designed to keep America’s nursing home residents safe from the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
CMS has again revised the QSO memorandum Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes based on the newest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It directs nursing homes to significantly restrict visitors and nonessential personnel, as well as restrict communal activities inside nursing homes. The new measures are CMS’s latest action to protect America’s seniors, who are at highest risk for complications from COVID-19. While visitor restrictions may be difficult for residents and families, it is an important temporary measure for their protection.
“As we learn more about the Coronavirus from experts on the ground, we’ve learned that seniors with multiple conditions are at highest risk for infection and complications, so CMS is using every tool at our disposal to keep nursing homes free from infection,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Temporarily restricting visitors and nonessential workers will help reduce the risk of Coronavirus spread in nursing homes, keeping residents safe. The Trump Administration is working around the clock to ensure the continued safety of America’s health care system, particularly nursing homes.”
The new measures CMS announced on March 13, which supersede prior CMS guidance, constitute the agency’s most aggressive and decisive recommendations with respect to nursing home safety in the face of the spread of COVID-19. They include:
- Restricting all visitors, effective immediately, with exceptions for compassionate care, such as end-of-life situations;
- Restricting all volunteers and nonessential health care personnel and other personnel (i.e. barbers);
- Cancelling all group activities and communal dining; and
- Implementing active screening of residents and health care personnel for fever and respiratory symptoms.
The guidance directs nursing homes to restrict visitation except in certain compassionate cases, like end-of-life. In those cases, visitors will be equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, and the visit will be limited to a specific room only.
CMS’s guidance is based upon CDC recommendations informed by real-time information being gathered from experts on the ground in areas with large numbers of COVID-19 cases, like Washington and California. According to CDC, seniors with multiple health conditions are at highest risk for complications. With large congregations of that particularly vulnerable population, nursing homes are extremely susceptible to quick spread of the virus. There have already been reports of large numbers of cases of COVID-19 spreading quickly through nursing homes, such as the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington. The spread of COVID-19 in a nursing home can amplify or seed further spread to other facilities when patients are transferred and when staff and visitors come and go. According to CDC, visitors and health care personnel who are ill are the most likely source of introduction of COVID-19 into nursing homes, necessitating today’s change in guidance to restrict visitors and personnel.
CMS understands the vital importance of keeping nursing home residents connected with their loved ones. However, the rapid spread of COVID-19 and its transmission through visitors and health care workers – as well as nursing home residents’ high risk – has made it necessary to restrict nonessential visitation in order to protect the health and safety of residents. In lieu of visits, CMS encourages nursing homes to facilitate increased virtual communication between residents and families. CMS also encourages nursing homes to keep residents’ loved ones informed about their care. This could include assigning a staff member as a primary contact for families to facilitate inbound communications, as well as regular outbound communications. Nursing homes are expected to notify potential visitors to defer visitation until further notice through signage and other outreach, such as emails and phone calls.
CDC has made several additional recommendations for nursing homes as they work to keep their residents safe. Nursing homes should put alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60-95 percent alcohol in every resident room – both inside and outside the room if possible – and in every common area. Additionally, nursing homes should ensure sinks are well-stocked with soap and paper towels for hand washing. They should make tissues and facemasks available for people who are coughing, and make necessary PPE available in areas where resident care is provided. Finally, they should ensure hospital grade disinfectants are available to allow for frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces and shared resident equipment.