March 05,2020

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Wyden, Neal Demand Answers From Trump Administration on Nursing Home Safety Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Letter to CMS Comes After Nationwide Nursing Home Safety Survey Announced; Highlights Previous Rollback of Safety Standards and Emergency Prep by Trump Administration

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and House Ways & Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., today sought more information from the Trump administration about its efforts to address safety and emergency preparedness at nursing homes amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

The letter, sent to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, also highlights previous efforts the Trump administration has taken to weaken nursing home safety standards.

“The Trump administration’s continued weakening of nursing home safety standards, including the rollbacks of infectious disease control and emergency preparedness standards, is especially troubling when seniors infected with COVID-19 are experiencing the highest rates of serious illness and death,” the members wrote. “The administration’s efforts to weaken nursing home oversight leaves seniors in the care of facilities that may be unprepared for an emerging infectious disease such as COVID-19. We write to highlight our concerns and questions in light of the CMS announcement of survey actions related to coronavirus.”

The letter comes as the threat of COVID-19 grows and more is learned about the disease, in particular its effect on seniors. An outbreak of the disease at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington has resulted in multiple deaths. The World Health Organization recently reported that people over the age of 60 and those with underlying medical conditions are at the highest risk for severe disease and death due to COVID-19.

On March 4, CMS announced that State Survey Agencies and Accrediting Organizations would be directed to prioritize inspections on infection control, along with noncompliance associated with serious health and safety risks. The letter’s questions to the Trump administration focus on ensuring the survey process is transparent and that the information gathered, and support provided by surveyors and CMS is as comprehensive, relevant and accurate as possible.

The rollback of infectious disease controls was part of a proposed rule issued in July 2019. A final rule issued in September 2019 removed the requirement that nursing homes demonstrate coordination with local, tribal, regional, state and federal emergency preparedness officials or participate in collaborative and cooperative planning in the community. Sheltering in Danger, a Finance Committee Democratic staff  report examining the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey on nursing homes, found that CMS emergency preparedness regulations, as released in 2016, were already inadequate to address the identified shortcomings. For example, a Florida nursing home where more than a dozen residents died was not required to establish, and did not establish, any coordinated health care arrangements with the regional hospital literally across the street from the home.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released information on preventing and treating COVID-19 that can be found here. Information from the CDC on preventing the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities specifically can be found here.

The full letter can be found here.