Nursing homes will be required to tell residents and their families about COVID-19 cases in their facilities under new federal requirements.
The guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services comes as the federal government, like officials in Virginia, tries to mitigate outbreaks in long-term care facilities, which are more susceptible to the virus’ spread. In Virginia, the majority of COVID-19 outbreaks are in long-term care facilities.
The Virginia Department of Health reported Monday that 77 of the state’s 139 outbreaks are in long-term care facilities, with 915 cases and 77 deaths.
Last week, 58% of the state’s 36 new outbreaks — defined as two laboratory-confirmed cases connected by people, place and time — were in long-term care facilities.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday that data on hospitalizations and deaths will be released daily by locality, which state officials had previously refused to do, but the VDH still does not list the facilities where there are outbreaks, including the 14 in the Richmond region.
“Nursing homes have been ground zero for COVID-19,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Today’s action supports CMS’ longstanding commitment to providing transparent and timely information to residents and their families.”
The new requirements say residents and their families must be notified within 12 hours of a single confirmed COVID-19 case. They also must be told if three or more people develop respiratory symptoms within a 72-hour period.
The guidance also requires that nursing homes report coronavirus cases to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Scientific data derived from solid surveillance is a key element of recommendations to protect Americans, particularly our most vulnerable, from the devastating impact of COVID-19,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC director. “This coordinated effort with CMS will allow CDC to provide even more detailed information to state and local health departments about how COVID-19 is affecting nursing home residents in order to develop additional recommendations to keep them safe.”
The federal government plans to make the data publicly available, according to a news release from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Laurie Forlano, the deputy commissioner of population health at the Virginia Department of Health, said Monday that the state would work with nursing homes to report the information to families and residents.
“We’re working together with facilities to help them figure out how to best communicate that information,” said Forlano, who is leading a statewide task force dedicated to COVID-19 and nursing homes.
No long-term care facility in Virginia has been hit harder by the pandemic than Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in western Henrico County, where 49 residents have died.
Dr. Jim Wright, the facility’s medical director, said Canterbury Rehabilitation has been notifying residents and their families since it started testing.
“As a scientist, we know that everyone does better with the free flow of information and, when information is not shared, that’s when bad things happen,” Wright said.
“So it’s not just a right for families to know, it is also a benefit to the scientific community to know what’s going on in each facility — exactly how many patients have been infected; how many of those patients died; how many of those patients are asymptomatic carriers.”
He added: “I understand the hesitancy each facility has in reporting COVID-related deaths and infections. It reflects badly. It results in increased and probably unwanted attention, and every facility has to deal with those impulses. What you have to keep in mind, though, is like I said, everyone does better when there’s a free flow of information, especially in a crisis.”
Morris Funk, the president and CEO of Beth Sholom, a senior living facility in western Henrico, told residents and family members Monday that the facility tested its Healthcare Center staff over the weekend, with one of the 36 employees testing positive. There are no new cases among residents, Funk said, meaning the total infected count is 38, where it was last week.
Funk said everyone in that building remains in isolation “regardless of how they recently tested.”
In a statement, the Virginia Health Care Association-Virginia Center for Assisted Living said it understands “the concerns families have about their loved ones in long-term care” and that it has given the 345 nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state it represents a template letter to help with their communication.
The group added that the facilities are in compliance with the VDH’s reporting requirements, which “have been in effect long before the emergence of COVID-19.”
Highland Springs facility has 15 cases
A skilled nursing facility in eastern Henrico reported Monday that it is treating 15 patients for COVID-19.
Henrico Health & Rehabilitation Center said in a statement that it is “following strict isolation protocols” for treating the infected patients in a separate area of the 120-bed rehabilitation facility in Highland Springs.
“We are also maintaining consistent staff assignments within this area to limit staff exposure and prevent transfer to other patients,” Administrator Adam Harrison said in the statement.
“It is important to remember that, as difficult as this disease is to treat in some instances, there are cases of COVID-19 that we have successfully treated, with positive outcomes,” Harrison added. “We continue to treat recovered patients under isolation protocols out of an abundance of caution and will do so until they are cleared by the health department to return to a normal treatment plan.”
The center said its clinical team is working closely with the Henrico Health District and its director, Dr. Danny Avula.
“Through frequent communication, his team is kept abreast of the statuses of our patients and we are kept informed of his latest guidance as we all readily absorb the evolving information available regarding this novel virus and its treatment,” Harrison said.
Staff writer Michael Martz contributed to this report.