Taking care of America’s senior citizens is a huge responsibility. Yet, after a lifetime of service to their families, jobs, and communities, many find themselves in nursing homes. They are vulnerable, with limited ability to care for themselves. That is why the government needs to regulate nursing homes and those who work there effectively.
One danger nursing home residents face is the spread of infection and disease. We may have never been as acutely aware of this danger as we have become since the COVID-19 pandemic. We learned both that germs can spread quickly in such close quarters and that the elderly are at high risk of a poor health outcome from contracting a severe illness.
This article will discuss nursing home regulations, including new infection control requirements.
The COVID19 Pandemic and Nursing Homes
During the pandemic, many of us were horrified to see nightly news stories describing the terrible effect the pandemic had on residents in nursing homes. In some instances, especially in the northeast, bodies piled up in nursing homes before they could be buried. As would be expected, since the conclusion of the pandemic, a great deal of effort has been devoted to examining these unacceptable results.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHSS) Office of Inspector General, the pandemic devastated Medicare recipients in nursing homes. DHSS reports that during two powerful surges of cases during the spring and fall of 2020, over 1,300 nursing homes experienced infection rates exceeding 75 percent of their Medicare beneficiaries. In addition, the mortality rate in the facilities with extremely high infection rates was almost 20 percent. For comparison purposes, the same nursing homes had mortality rates of 6 percent in 2019.
Oregon also had problems. According to a story in Willamette Week, in 2021, an Oregon state auditor’s report found that the state’s failure to inspect and penalize nursing homes probably caused the deaths of seniors. The report specifically noted the lack of rules for strict infection control. Also of concern was that Oregon DHS stopped its inspections for certification and licensing of long-term facilities for a period of time during the pandemic.
How Are Nursing Homes Regulated
Nursing homes are subject to regulation by both the state and federal governments. A nursing home must be licensed in the state in which it operates. To receive payment from Medicaid or Medicare, which are the primary payors for approximately 74 percent of nursing home residents, nursing homes must comply with federal law. Under the Social Security Act, the Health and Human Services Secretary is authorized to establish requirements regarding the health and safety of nursing home residents in homes that receive Medicare and Medicaid.
New Infection Control Requirements
As a result of the pandemic, it appears that regulators have identified the inadequacy of infection control in many facilities. Relias Media reports that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) has finalized new requirements for nursing homes. Each facility must have an “infection preventionist” (IP) working at least part-time. The IP must work on-site – this cannot be a remote consultant position. Additionally, the IP must have sufficient time to develop, implement, monitor and manage the infection control program. This includes addressing training, which is often considered sub-par in nursing homes. The requirements also emphasize appropriate certification as an essential part of demonstrating expertise. Finally, CMS provides a range of rules designed to ensure an effective infection control program. This includes prevention, as well as dealing with outbreaks.
Call with Questions
While COVID-19 may have been a force leading to the adoption of new infection control requirements, many other types of illness and infection can be spread when adequate safeguards do not exist. If you have a loved one in a nursing home who has suffered injury or illness, you will likely have questions about your rights. The legal experts at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield would happily answer them for you in a free consultation. We represent personal injury victims all across Oregon and firmly believe that the best way to keep society safe is by holding accountable those who negligently cause harm.