Watchdog finds widespread infection control problems at nursing homes

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By Rachel Roubein, Politico, May 20 2020

The vast majority of nursing homes were cited for deficiencies related to infection prevention and control in recent years, according to a new federal watchdog report finding a history of widespread problems in an industry ravaged by the coronavirus.

About 82 percent of nursing homes failed to meet federal standards for measures like proper handwashing or isolating sick residents at least once between 2013 and 2017, according to a new GAO report. Nearly half of the facilities had a citation in consecutive years, which the GAO called “an indicator of persistent problems.”

“Many of these practices can be critical to preventing the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19,” the GAO wrote.

About 99 percent of these citations were classified as “not severe” because residents weren’t harmed. However, it meant CMS didn’t issue any enforcement actions, since the agency only does so when residents are harmed or there’s an immediate threat to their safety.

A CMS spokesperson said the agency has used the data “to strengthen federal infection control and prevention regulations and policies.”

In March, and as deadly coronavirus outbreaks at nursing homes began across the country, CMS mandated state survey agencies focus their inspections on infection control problems or other dire complaints. So far, CMS and states have completed over 7,000 inspections since March 1 and are expected to release the results in the coming weeks.