Healthcare Educators


Nursing Homes, Medicare and COVID-19 Safety

by | May 29, 2020

Nursing homes have been especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many nursing homes have had to take careful measures to protect their residents, including closing to visitors or even relocating residents. CMS has recently announced new guidance to help nursing homes reopen safely. If you have a loved one or a client in a nursing home, here’s what you need to know.

The Pandemic Ravages Nursing Homes

Seattle became one of the first coronavirus hotspots in the U.S. when the virus infected residents and staff at a local nursing home. According to NPR, the nursing home experienced more than two dozen coronavirus deaths. CMS has said the facility no long qualifies to participate in Medicare, and it may have to pay more than $600,000 in fines.

The Seattle-area nursing home has not been the only long-term care facility to succumb to the coronavirus. According to the New York Times, one-third of all U.S. coronavirus deaths are linked to nursing homes, and more than 28,000 residents and workers of nursing homes and long-term care facilities have died.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, more than 352 nursing homes in the state have reported cases. There have been at least 3,598 confirmed cases among residents and 578 deaths.

Across the nation, some nursing homes have been shut down. According to KGW8, this includes a Portland-area nursing home where 117 people tested positive for COVID-19. The DHS temporarily suspended the nursing home’s license, and the residents were relocated.

Other nursing homes have suspended activities and prohibited visitors in order to keep residents safe and comply with shelter-in-place orders and self-isolation recommendations. While these measures may be necessary, they have also been hard on the residents and their families.

Reopening Guidance

President Trump has released Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, and this includes steps that nursing homes should take before relaxing COVID-19 restrictions. CMS has recommended additional criteria as well.

The suggestions from CMS include the following:

  • Not reopening or relaxing restrictions until all residents and staff receive results from a baseline test
  • Remaining in the current state of highest restriction as restrictions begin to relax for other businesses and being among the last organizations in a community to reopen
  • Having state survey agencies inspect nursing homes that experienced COVID-19 outbreaks before they reopen

CMS says that nursing homes can allow visitors in phase three of reopening. This occurs when there has been a sustained decrease in COVID-19 cases.

The Next Steps

If one of your loved ones or clients is in a nursing home, you are probably eager to schedule a visit. At the same time, you may be worried about the continued risk of COVID-19. This is a difficult situation, and nursing homes must proceed carefully.

You may wish to contact the facility to see when they plan to open and what safety precautions they will be putting in place. For more information on Medicare coverage for coronavirus as well as health tips and other facts, see the Medicare & Coronavirus webpage.