One of the last federal nursing home infection control regulations passed before the current presidency was a requirement aimed at corralling the 1.6 to 3.8 million infections and diseases that plague nursing homes annually. The first part of the federal nursing home infection regulation was a requirement for all long-term care facilities to develop infection control and prevention plans to detect, report and contain communicable diseases, this included keeping an infection control specialist on staff at least part-time.
The second requirement was that these specialists and staff members receive specialized training. Finally, the last part of the federal nursing home infection regulation declared that each nursing home’s infection control specialist was responsible for ensuring all staff members properly clean their hands, disinfected surfaces and followed hygiene protocols.
Unfortunately, with national concern for Covid-19, attention has now been called to steps that the current federal administration has taken to reduce the federal nursing home infection control protections previously put into place. In July 2019, the administration proposed a rollback for all nursing homes. Under these new federal nursing home infection control measures, the “excessively burdensome requirements” of having an infection control specialist on part-time has been reduced to allowing nursing homes to only keep infection control specialists on for what they believe is “sufficient time at the facility.”
Some detractors from the proposed federal nursing home infection control measures like Toby Edelman, a senior policy attorney at the nonprofit Center for Medicare Advocacy, told NBC News that “These are frail, medically compromised people, and they need to have someone focused on infection.”
The administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Seema Verma, defended the reduction of mandatory infection control measures. In a statement, Verma told reporters that “The health, safety, and welfare of America’s patients — including nursing home residents — and our provider workforce in the face of [coronavirus] is our highest priority.”
This statement seems to contradict the actions taken by the agency as recently as last year when the CMS proposed reducing the frequency of facility-wide assessments that nursing homes are required to conduct. Under the new requirements, nursing homes would only be required to conduct inspections every other year, instead of annually.
The new federal nursing home infection control rollbacks have run afoul of leading epidemiologists and long-term care experts who have stressed the importance of trained infection control specialists on staff with a virus that has such a high mortality rate among the elderly.
Dr. David Weber, professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told reporters that infection control and prevention “isn’t something where you should stop by in March, and everything seems fine, so then you’ll come in August.” When it comes to Covid-19 or any other infectious disease infection control in crowded nursing homes “needs to be a daily activity.”
For more information about how neglect can lead to increased danger in a nursing home visit the National Association of Nursing Home Attorneys’ Neglect Page.