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Federal Agencies Team Up to Prevent Outbreaks at Nursing Homes (1)

March 23, 2020, 8:07 PM; Updated: March 23, 2020, 8:43 PM

The federal Medicare agency will work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help prevent Covid-19 outbreaks at high-risk hospitals and nursing homes, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said.

The plan by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services calls for state inspectors to conduct targeted infection control surveys of nursing homes and hospitals that may be ripe for an outbreak, based on projections that the CDC has derived from Medicare claims data.

“This is an extraordinary step designed for extraordinary times,” Verma told reporters in a Monday telephone briefing.

The CDC has reported confirmed cases of the coronavirus in 146 nursing homes across 27 states, Verma said.

Verma said the agency has also developed a “voluntary self-assessment” that nursing homes and hospitals can conduct themselves to see if they’re meeting CMS guidelines for infection control.

“The plain fact is that the coronavirus is spreading and personal protective equipment is at a premium. And some of our state inspectors can be pulled away by their governors” to help with other aspects of the coronavirus response, Verma said.

The assessment tool “will supplement our survey work in cases where inspectors aren’t available or when a facility is experiencing coronavirus cases” and needs to respond quickly, she added.

Washington Inspection

Verma announced the new strategy along with the results of a preliminary inspection at the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in that state. At last report, 81 residents, 34 staff members, and 14 visitors to the facility have become ill, and 26 residents have died, Verma said.

Inspectors cited the facility for an “immediate jeopardy” violation, she said.

“Specifically, the facility failed to identify and manage sick residents. They failed to notify the state health department and the state about sickness among the residents. And they failed to have a backup plan for when their staff doctor became sick,” Verma said.

On March 18, the CMS notified the facility that it would be terminated from participation in the Medicare and Medicaid program within 23 days unless it remedies the immediate danger to residents, Verma said.

The facility must provide a plan to CMS to address the problems. The agency will conduct an unannounced inspection soon to verify that residents are not at immediate risk, she said.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout)

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Pugh in Washington at tpugh@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Alexis Kramer at akramer@bloomberglaw.com

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