March 5, 2020
Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is announcing several actions aimed at limiting the spread of the Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). Specifically, CMS is issuing a call to action to health care providers across the country to ensure they are implementing their infection control procedures, which they are required to maintain at all times. Additionally, CMS is announcing that, effective immediately and, until further notice, State Survey Agencies and Accrediting Organizations will focus their facility inspections exclusively on issues related to infection control and other serious health and safety threats, like allegations of abuse – beginning with nursing homes and hospitals. Critically, this shift in approach, first announced yesterday by Vice President Pence, will allow inspectors to focus their energies on addressing the spread of COVID-19.
As the agency responsible for Medicare and Medicaid, CMS requires facilities to maintain infection control and prevention policies as a condition for participation in the programs. CMS is also issuing three memoranda to State Survey Agencies, State Survey Agency directors and Accrediting Organizations – to inspect thousands of Medicare-participating health care providers across the country, including nursing homes and hospitals.
“Today’s actions, taken together, represent a call to action across the health care system,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “All health care providers must immediately review their procedures to ensure compliance with CMS’ infection control requirements, as well as the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We sincerely appreciate the proactive efforts of the nursing home and hospital associations that have already galvanized to provide up-to-the-minute information to their members. We must continue working together to keep American patients and residents safe and healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
The first memorandum released today provides important detail with respect to the temporary focus of surveys on infection control and other emergent issues. Importantly, it notes that, in addition to the focused inspections, statutorily-required inspections will also continue in the 15,000 nursing homes across the country using the approximately 8,200 state survey agency surveyors. Surveys will be conducted according to the following regime:
- All immediate jeopardy complaints (a situation in which entity noncompliance has placed the health and safety of recipients in its care at risk for serious injury, serious harm, serious impairment or death or harm) and allegations of abuse and neglect;
- Complaints alleging infection control concerns, including facilities with potential COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses;
- Statutorily required recertification surveys (Nursing Home, Home Health, Hospice, and ICF/IID facilities);
- Any re-visits necessary to resolve current enforcement actions;
- Initial certifications;
- Surveys of facilities/hospitals that have a history of infection control deficiencies at the immediate jeopardy level in the last three years;
- Surveys of facilities/hospitals/dialysis centers that have a history of infection control deficiencies at lower levels than immediate jeopardy.
The memorandum also includes protocols for the inspection process in situations in which COVID-19 is identified or suspected. These protocols include working closely with CMS regional offices, coordinating with CDC, and other relevant agencies at all levels of government. The agency is also providing key guidance related to inspectors’ usage of adequate personal protective equipment.
The other two memoranda provide critical answers to common questions that nursing homes and hospitals may have with respect to addressing cases of COVID-19. For example, the memoranda discuss concerns like screening staff and visitors with questions about recent travel to countries with known cases and the severity of infection that would warrant hospitalization instead of self-isolation. They detail the process for transferring patients between nursing homes and hospitals in cases for which COVID-19 is suspected or diagnosed. They also describe the circumstances under which providers should take precautionary measures (like isolation and mask wearing) for patients and residents diagnosed with COVID-19, or showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
Finally, the agency is announcing that it has deployed an infection prevention specialist to CDC’s Atlanta headquarters to assist with real-time in guidance development.
Today’s actions from CMS are focused on protecting American patients and residents by ensuring health care facilities have up-to-date information to adequately respond to COVID-19 concerns while also making it clear to providers that as always, CMS will hold them accountable for effective infection control standards. The agency is also supplying inspectors with necessary and timely information to safely and accurately inspect facilities.
To view each memo, please visit the below links:
Suspension of Survey Activities: https://www.cms.gov/medicareprovider-enrollment-and-certificationsurveycertificationgeninfopolicy-and/suspension-survey-activities
Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention Concerning Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): FAQs and Considerations for Patient Triage, Placement and Hospital Discharge: https://www.cms.gov/medicareprovider-enrollment-and-certificationsurveycertificationgeninfopolicy-and/guidance-infection-control-and-prevention-concerning-coronavirus-disease-covid-19-faqs-and
Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in nursing homes: https://www.cms.gov/medicareprovider-enrollment-and-certificationsurveycertificationgeninfopolicy-and/guidance-infection-control-and-prevention-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-nursing-homes
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