Despite Thousands of COVID-19 Deaths, the Federal Government Continues to Discuss Eliminating Vital Employees
As of May 1st, USA Today released an estimate that nursing home patients and staff accounted for around 16,000 of the country’s 57,000+ deaths from COVID-19. Since the beginning of the U.S. outbreak, nursing homes have been considered especially vulnerable to the disease. The novel coronavirus tends to be worse for people over the age of 65 and those with pre-existing conditions, a demographic that includes most residents in these facilities. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) page on COVID-19 even lists “people who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility” as a high-risk group. Just a few days ago, the Trump administration announced it was creating a new safety commission to support infection control in response to the high level of infections and deaths within these facilities. So why is The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) defending a rule to decrease the role of infection preventionists in nursing homes?
As tasteless as this campaign may seem, especially during the midst of the global pandemic, we must give the CMS a microscopic amount of credit. This rule change was proposed in July of 2019, far before the novel coronavirus became known to the world. However, we would think those responsible for overseeing elder care might have changed their opinion based on recent events.
What Would the Rule Change Do?
Since 2016, nursing homes have operated in accordance with new regulations passed by the Obama administration. Currently, every facility is required to have an infection preventionist on staff in at least a part-time position. This specialist is in charge of ensuring employee compliance with best practices. Lest you think the outbreaks caused by the novel coronavirus are the first to cause mass deaths among nursing home patients, consider the data: The CMS estimates 380,000 nursing home residents are killed by infections each year. Infection is both the highest cause of death and the leading reason for facility violations.
The new rule would remove nursing homes’ obligation to have an infection prevention specialist on their payroll. Perhaps deliberately vague, the rule would replace this requirement with a suggestion nursing homes have a specialist on their premises for “sufficient time.” This would allow each facility to determine on its own how much infection control was needed, and could make it more difficult for regulators to penalize underperforming businesses. Also among the proposed changes: Safety assessments would decrease in frequency and some facilities would be allowed to house more than 2 residents per room. Especially given the current crisis, these modifications seem inadvisable.
No Bright Side for Nursing Home Residents
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, nursing home advocates were strongly against this change in regulations. Protecting patients from infection is one of the most important things a nursing home can do to maintain health and wellness. Given the large number of violations inspectors see in this area, reducing oversight hardly seems a good idea.
CMS claims these rules are meant to allow nursing homes more control of policies so they can meet individual needs. However, journalists have noted the rule change, which could save nursing homes around $640 million annually, was announced after industry lobbyists campaigned in Washington and donated to the Trump campaign. It seems the regulations may be an issue of money rather than safety. Most nursing home abuse cases we see are caused by facility understaffing, and we expect allowing managers to cut a safety official would lead conditions to worsen. The rule, if approved by CMS, would allow profit-hungry business owners to save a few more dollars at the risk of patient lives.
Justice Is Needed for Nursing Home Patients
Patient advocates, family members of patients, and concerned law firms aren’t the only people to worry the proposed rule change would bring harm. Seventeen attorneys general have banded together to declare the rules a threat to the health of our most vulnerable seniors. Unfortunately, CMS does not need congressional approval to change regulations. This means we as citizens cannot hold the agency and its members directly accountable for their work. Our team can only fight back should this disastrous decision be made—and we are prepared to do so.
With the novel coronavirus having infected close to 100,000 nursing home residents and staff members, it’s hard to see how anyone with patients’ best interests in mind could propose decreasing infection control regulations. Our team continues to monitor updates to nursing home policy so we can be ready to file lawsuits on behalf of vulnerable patients who need support.
Contact Ashcraft & Gerel online or call us at (800) 674-9725 if you think your loved one is in an abusive nursing home. We are here to take on facilities that disregard patient safety in pursuit of higher profits.