CMS orders nursing homes to disclose COVID-19 cases to families

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued a new rule for nursing homes. Now, as soon as a nursing home has a single case of COVID-19, it must alert residents and their families within 12 hours.

The nursing home must also report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within 72 hours whenever three or more people develop respiratory symptoms. CMS will then make the information public.

Nursing homes are also expected to report weekly to the CDC or face $1,000 weekly fines.

In an effort to increase surveillance of the illness, CMS has also increased the reimbursement rate for COVID-19 tests in nursing homes and granted authority to labs to get into the facilities for more testing.

In the past, nursing homes have not had to make their illness reports public. They have generally been required to report outbreaks of COVID-19 to local and state public health authorities, but not to the CDC or any federal health officials.

Some nursing homes have not been providing accurate data

The New York Times reports that there have been at least 36,500 nursing home residents and staff infected by the virus in over 4,100 nursing homes across the U.S. More than 7,000 have died.

Yet, a lot of families have been frustrated by the lack of transparency and information from their loved ones' facilities. The nonprofit investigative newsroom ProPublica, working with PBS Frontline, recently reported on a facility in Queens, New York, where management allegedly lied about how widespread COVID-19 had become. It's only one example among many facilities where leaders have kept silent or been misleading about the spread of the disease.

The New York Department of Health and health departments all around the country are relying on the facilities to report infections and deaths accurately, but that seems not to be happening in some places.

As a result of stories like that, AARP has been calling for more transparency, along with more PPE for staff and the ability to routinely test residents for COVID-19.

"Care facilities are ground zero in the fight against the coronavirus, representing a shockingly high share of deaths," said an AARP spokesperson. "Even more terrifying is that we are fighting this fight without the facts. The guidance from CMS will provide more transparency, but with such a fast-spreading disease, the reporting of facility names with confirmed COVID-19 cases needs to be made public and happen daily. Families have a right to know what is happening to their loved ones."

Find out what is going on in your loved one's nursing home

If your loved one is in a nursing home, you do have the right to know what is happening. Yet it can be difficult to get a clear picture when you can't visit in person. Choose a single member of your family to be the liaison with the nursing home, and then ask lots of questions.

Ask the facility whether anyone among the staff or residents has tested positive for COVID-19. Ask what the facility's plan is for reducing the risk of infection for residents. If your loved one has a medical condition that puts them at greater risk, make sure the facility is aware of that and is taking steps to minimize their contact with sick people.

If you suspect your loved one's nursing home is not taking adequate steps to slow or stop the spread of the disease, ask for help from a law firm with experience in nursing home negligence cases.

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