After intense public pressure, nursing homes finally will be required to notify the CDC, residents, and their families when the facility has a positive case of COVID-19. This will give residents and families the information they need to protect their family members.
According to guidance provided Sunday, April 19, by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS): “At a minimum, ... nursing homes must inform residents and their representatives within 12 hours of the occurrence of a single confirmed infection of COVID-19, or three or more residents or staff with new-onset of respiratory symptoms that occur within 72 hours.”
Too little, too late?
For many families, this mandate comes far too late. Until this week, nursing homes had no legal responsibility to provide COVID-19 information to residents, their families, or even employees at the facility. With transparent information, families could have moved their loved ones, especially those with underlying conditions, at the first sign of COVID-19. Unfortunately, many families became aware of COVID-19 infection at their nursing home only after their loved one was infected or after the facility became a health care disaster site featured in the news.
According to Partner, Leah Barron of Brown & Barron, “This information is critical for families—and for the nation. Nursing homes continue, unfortunately, to be death traps. Governments are going to have to step in to ensure residents receive better care. We hope that once the public sees the real numbers, we—as a nation—can step in to ensure universal testing of residents and staff at nursing homes, and also to support better infection control practices.”
The key to fighting a virus like COVID-19 is isolating it so that it cannot spread to others. That requires sharing information freely among healthcare organizations as to who has it and where, yet most nursing homes and state authorities decided to hide that information. With nursing home residents representing an estimated 20% of all U.S. COVID-deaths, it is a national disgrace that this information has been withheld for months.
Even the CDC is in the dark
Even the Center for Disease Control (CDC) could not get vital up-to-date information from nursing homes. Months into the pandemic and long after it was known that nursing homes were hotspots for the virus, the CDC was forced to admit that it did not have access to up-to-date data on nursing homes. What little information the CDC had on nursing homes was coming voluntarily from certain state and local health bureaus. That information is desperately critical to tracking and isolating the pandemic, yet most states refused to identify infected facilities with baffling claims of protecting privacy. Now nursing homes will be providing that information directly to the CDC.
“We recognize that there should be some more reporting and so we are currently engaged with the CDC around efforts to increase reporting of outbreaks, specifically of COVID,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a media release Sunday night. “We want to make sure that we all have real time information about the status of the COVID virus in nursing homes.”
It remains to be seen if this guidance by the CMS will have any teeth. So far, the CMS only says that if nursing homes do not comply it “could result in an enforcement action against the nursing home by CMS.”
Our attorneys at Brown & Barron, LLC focus on representing nursing home residents who have been neglected or abused. We know first-hand how these facilities function, and just how vulnerable residents are to injuries. If you believe you or a family member has suffered as a result of nursing home negligence, we invite you to contact our team as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and options.