WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The Trump administration says the country’s nursing homes, which care for more than a million residents, are ground zero for the coronavirus crisis.
According to the New York Times, more than 36,000 residents and staff members at the facilities have contracted the virus and 7,000 have died. However, those numbers could rise because until now, the facilities were not required to report cases to the Centers for Disease Control.
“This is just a very, very difficult time, and we want to make sure that patients and their families have full transparency and know what’s going on,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said. “It’s all about keeping patients safe. Our nursing home residents are some of the most vulnerable people.”
Under new CMS requirements, nursing homes will report coronavirus cases of their patients and healthcare workers directly to the CDC every week or face at least a $1,000 fine. The facilities also must notify residents and their families of any coronavirus spread.
The federal directive should help clear up confusion at the state level about how much information nursing homes can share and who they can share it with.
“Right now, we seem – knock on wood – to have a handle on our nursing home cases, but we have to remain careful,” U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said.
Verma said that’s why the reporting is so important, especially as states start to reopen.
“Going forward, we’re going to use a nursing home as that sentinel surveillance system,” she said. “If we continue to monitor nursing homes, we may be able to detect if there is an outbreak in a community.”
The data on coronavirus cases in nursing homes should be available to the public on the CMS website within the next few weeks.