(LITITZ, Pa.-LititzDailyNews.com) – For residents of Pennsylvania nursing homes, where almost 70 percent of deaths attributed to COVID-19 have occurred in the state, spread of the disease and a lack of site-specific information has been acutely frightening and frustrating. For family members cut off from loved ones and forced to rely on updates from long-term care staff, updates which many have complained are infrequent and lack sufficient detail, it has been a nightmare.
As a result, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has now ordered nursing homes throughout the country to report new cases of COVID-19 to residents, family, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in a specific timeframe.
NURSING HOMES MUST NOTIFY RESIDENTS AND FAMILY
The new CMS rule requires long-term care facilities across the country to inform residents and family by 5 p.m. the following day if even a single COVID-19 case is confirmed, or if three or more residents or staff with “new-onset of respiratory symptoms occurring within 72 hours of each other,” according to the CMS memo. The rule is effective as of May 8.
In addition, the rule specifies that the nursing home must “include any cumulative updates for residents, their representatives, and families at least weekly or by 5 p.m. the next calendar day following the subsequent occurrence of either” of the above triggers for notification.
Some long-term care facilities have been couching their total case counts in convoluted public announcements containing multiple small numbers while failing to disclose a larger aggregate number of infections, as Luthercare did in confusing announcements until its practice was publicly reported on by LititzDailyNews.com.
Previously, nursing homes were only required to report coronavirus cases to the Pennsylvania Department of Health or to the local health agency, which Lancaster County lacks. For over a month, Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has repeatedly refused requests from family members and the media to release the names of nursing homes in the state with confirmed cases. At press conferences, the official response has been consistent, though not transparent: “We’re looking into that.”
Families have been forced to rely on nursing homes to publicly self-report, which some have done, or on investigative reporting by local media, including this publication, to unearth cases at local long-term care facilities. Relying on these reports, the Washington Post compiled a list of over 1,300 nursing homes nationwide with confirmed cases, noting that about half had a previous history of reported violations for infection control.
While some local long-term care facilities have been proactive about reporting coronavirus illness and infection rates and have promptly responded to media inquiry, like Landis Homes in Lititz, others, like United Zion Retirement Center and Brethren Village went public only after this news publication, LititzDailyNews.com, contacted them to confirm cases and deaths at their sites and publish stories.
The leadership of Luther Acres, where so far the worst outbreak in Lititz has occurred, has been openly hostile to this news site after it reported the doubling of deaths over a single weekend and has since refused all comment to this publication on the explosive outbreak there.
NURSING HOMES MUST NOW REPORT COVID-19 CASES TO THE CDC
In addition to the new required reporting to residents and families, long-term care facilities must electronically report information about “1. Suspected and confirmed COVID-19 infections among residents and staff, including residents previously treated for COVID-19; 2. Total deaths and COVID-19 deaths among residents and staff; 3. Personal protective equipment and hand hygiene supplies in the facility; 4. Ventilator capacity and supplies in the facility; 5. Resident beds and census; 6. Access to COVID-19 testing while the resident is in the facility; 7. Staffing shortages; and 8. Other information specified by the Secretary,” according to the CMS memo.
The CDC plans to make the information reported by facilities available to the public by the end of May.
Facities that fail to provide the information by agency deadlines at least weekly will face penalties, according to the memo. “These regulations require a minimum of weekly reporting, and noncompliance with this requirement will receive a deficiency citation and result in a civil money penalty (CMP) imposition,” according to the CMS memo. MORE LITITZ NURSING HOME AND COVID-19 NEWS BELOW.
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Lynn Rebuck is the editor and publisher of award-winning LititzDailyNews.com, the only independent digital news source in Lititz. Lynn is an award-winning photojournalist who was invited to the White House and has received top recognition from the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association, National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and has been profiled in Editor & Publisher magazine for her unparalleled dedication to publishing LititzDailyNews.com to benefit the community.