How the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the elderly and others in the nation's nursing homes will be revealed in detail at the end of the month, when the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services releases data on cases and deaths.
Federal officials elaborated on the initiative Monday during a telephone news conference outlining how the facilities, closed to visitors since March, could resume normal visitation.
Seema Verma, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator, said the agency was committed to “a safe approach of reuniting nursing home residents with loved ones” but urged the facilities “to move very carefully and cautiously.”
Nationally, nursing homes have been hit hard by COVID-19. The first U.S. death was reported in a Washington nursing home.
Indiana health statistics show 45% of COVID-19 deaths in the state have been in long-term care homes, but state officials have been mum about where the deaths occurred, not naming individual facilities or providing statistics by county.
The state has been reporting aggregate data weekly – with the latest showing 3,625 confirmed cases and 732 deaths as of Monday. Facilities with confirmed cases number 212 statewide, and facilities showing deaths stand at 129.
Confirmed cases have more than tripled in the past four weeks from 993. Deaths have more than quadrupled in the same time span from 162.
Allen County Department of Health officials have not said where nursing home deaths or cases have occurred.
Verma said the new guidance on reopening nursing homes to visitors will depend on state and local conditions. The guidance does not recommend advancing plans to reopen until a facility has no known COVID-19 cases and the staff is being screened daily and tested weekly.
States can decide to relax nursing home visitation rules all at one time or allow facilities to do so individually, she said.
Governors were assured during a recent conference call that there would be enough testing available, Verma said. They were also told to stress infection control measures in upcoming inspections, she said.
As for the reporting requirements, Verma said nursing homes are already required to notify families of cases and deaths and report them to state health officials. The new federal mandate will include the names of facilities, she said.
The reporting will include an unspecified, optional “look-back period” then be required weekly.
Reports will include data on both residents and staff, Verma said.
The delay in making the data public comes because federal officials need to sort through compliance issues and determine which facilities will be fined for noncompliance, she said.
“Patients and their families already have this information,” Verma said. “The data will give us a better picture” nationally.
She added: “We're going to be using nursing homes as a sentinel” for spotting nursing home and community-based virus trends.