US creating guidelines to reopen nursing homes: report

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By Rebecca Klar, The Hill, May 5 2020

Federal regulators have drafted guidelines for reopening nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reportedly circulated a draft last week, proposing a multiphase reopening of nursing homes that mimics the White House guidelines for states to reopen economies. 

The final version of the guidelines may differ significantly from the early draft, and the timeline of when it may be complete and released is unclear, the Journal, which cited unidentified sources, notes. 

Industry officials have warned nursing homes need more resources and support before they can safely reopen to protect their vulnerable residents, the Journal notes. 

A CMS spokesperson told The Hill that he agency “doesn’t comment on leaked documents.”

“CMS’s focus continues to be keeping nursing home residents safe and providing guidance for states and nursing homes on safety during these unprecedented times,” the spokesperson added in a statement. “CMS was leading the charge for the ‘closing’ of nursing homes as a precaution and response to the pandemic and it only makes sense that CMS would also be highly engaged with working with stakeholders to plan for a potential future reopening.”

Protecting residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities has been a challenge amid the pandemic. Nationwide, there have been about 26,000 deaths at such sites, with more than 5,300 of those fatalities in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic, according to The Associated Press

On March 13, CMS announced new measures at nursing homes, including restricting visitors and communal activities inside facilities. 

The CMS draft proposal for reopening facilities calls for a phased approach, leaving them largely closed down in the first phase, the Journal reports. 

A facility could move to a second phase if it met requirements including having no new coronavirus cases for 14 days. Nursing homes where a quarter or more of their residents have been infected would need to go at least 28 days with no new cases before loosening restrictions, according to the Journal. 

A second phase would reportedly allow nursing homes to start granting limited visitor access during restricted hours, and allow communal dining and group activities with social distancing restrictions in place. 

Under the draft plan, nursing homes could enter a third phase, allowing for broader visitor access and a return to normal activities, if they go another two weeks without new cases, the Journal reports.