With the New York Times reporting this week that one-third of all coronavirus deaths involve nursing home residents or workers, it’s no surprise that our nation’s skilled nursing facilities and senior care centers are receiving a big dose of attention these days.

For the first time, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is requiring all 15,000 nursing homes in the U.S. to report COVID-19 data. Though the agency has had a longstanding CMS requirement for nursing homes to report cases of communicable diseases, including COVID-19, to appropriate state or local health departments, CMS announced on April 19 it will be requiring nursing homes to report COVID-19 information directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to families. On May 8, CMS published the interim final rule updating notification and reporting requirements. Comments on the rule will be accepted through July 7, 2020.

The new requirement encompasses any long-term care facility that is certified to provide Medicare skilled nursing services including nursing homes, long-term care for the developmentally disabled, and assisted living facilities. After the data is reported, CMS intends to post it so all Americans will have access to timely information regarding COVID-19 in the nation’s nursing homes. Look for postings at by the end of May, CMS says.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee was among the first to announce widespread testing in nursing homes, requiring COVID-19 testing of both residents and employees at the states more than 700 nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Pennsylvania released a new testing plan for nursing homes this week that even its governor describes as "fairly radical." The advisory recommends that facilities with a confirmed case of COVID-19 test all residents and staff while centers without a confirmed case should test 20%. Governor Tom Wolf told reporters the testing of employees and residents should be performed weekly, but the advisory sent to facilities says initial testing should be prioritized and "repeat testing should be aligned with consideration for testing capacity."

With nursing home residents accounting for almost 40% of his state’s 1,700 deaths, Florida Governor Ron Desantis also required mandatory testing of nursing home residents and staff this week, and cities like Jacksonville saw an almost immediate increase in cases. Kentucky also announced testing for every resident and employee in the Commonwealth’s nursing homes.

Connecticut is among a handful of states to designate "COVID-only" skilled nursing facilities after Governor Lamont admitted, "nursing homes are like a petri dish for this pandemic." The goal is to provide specialized care to infected residents – and to help prevent outbreaks at other nursing homes. Expect to see more of this initiative in other states soon.

As federal and state government agencies struggle to meet the ever-changing demands placed on skilled nursing and senior care facilities in the age of COVID-19, media outlets across the country are focusing their spotlights as well.

Locally, from Louisiana to Massachusetts to California, journalists are increasingly examining the plight of senior facilities. On the national front, media outlets including the New York Times and the Kaiser Family Fund are tracking nursing home cases, death and policy changes to help document the struggle and share information on policies and best practices.

The bar has never been higher for nursing home operators. They recognize the trust that individuals and families place in them: they quite literally have the lives of our nation’s aging in their hands. Communicating with residents, families, advocates and even detractors has never been more important for senior care providers. If your organization needs fresh ideas – or a total overhaul – of your COVID-19 communications, contact us.

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