A recent study of data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) by the Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA) has shown a disconnect between the results of CMS infection control surveys and outbreaks of COVID-19 within skilled nursing facilities.
Infection control citations
In mid-March, CMS announced that inspections would focus on infection control programs – in addition to cases of immediate resident danger – to help suppress the spread of COVID-19 within SNFs. A review of CMS inspection data by CMA showed that a very small portion of infection control surveys resulted in citations. Out of 5,724 infection control surveys performed from the March announcement through June 24, only 99 resulted in citations.1
Of the citations, 93 were marked as having minimal harm or potential for minimal harm, and three were marked as having a potential for minimal harm. The remaining three were marked as putting residents’ health and safety in immediate jeopardy. Thirty-five of the citations resulted in fines.
The disconnect between citations and infections
The concern raised by CMA has been raised by officials in many states, as well as by families of afflicted nursing home residents: With the high rate of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes, the low amount of citations – which translates to 2.4 percent of surveys – seems “implausible,” according to CMA officials. Through the end of June, more than 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the United States were related to skilled nursing facilities.2
The CMA’s review showed that several of the CMS infection control surveys that did not result in citations took place even as SNFs were in the middle of COVID-19 outbreaks. Three days after a passing survey at one California facility, there were 68 diagnosed COVID-19 cases documented. The staff refused to return to work over concerns for their safety, and members of the California National Guard were deployed to care for residents.3
Those eyeing the survey results give different causes for the disconnect between passing surveys and COVID-19 infections. Some say SNFs lacked access to the personal protective equipment needed to keep staff and residents safe. Others called out a lack of regular testing among residents and staff. One CMS administrator said the disparity between survey results and infection rates likely shows that SNF staff demonstrated compliance during surveys but failed to follow protocols when they were not under scrutiny.
Maintaining infection control programs
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining infection control protocol has become more important than ever in keeping residents and staff safe. The number of SNF deaths due to the pandemic and the results of the CMA’s data review could lead to further scrutiny of infection control programs or more stringent infection control program requirements.
SNFs can stay on top of regulations, infection control protocol and patient data with ABILITY INFECTIONWATCH. The application allows for easy tracking of McGeer criteria, infection reports and infection control measures. SNFs can tighten their vigilance against infections by customizing infection thresholds; when those thresholds are reached, an alert appears on the ABILITY INFECTIONWATCH dashboard so staff won’t miss the signs of an outbreak.
1. “Special Report Additional Infection Control Surveys at Nursing Facilities Show Same Results: Few Deficiencies, Most Called ‘No Harm’; Poor Ratings on Nursing Home Compare,” Miriam Edelman, July 9, 2020, https://medicareadvocacy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Report-Coronavirus-Infection-Controls-Second-Batch-.pdf?emci=0f6236c7-f5c1-ea11-9b05-00155d03bda0&emdi=526f3f5a-0dc2-ea11-9b05-00155d03bda0&ceid=7801066.
2 “More than 40 Percent of U.S. Coronavirus Deaths are to Nursing Homes,” The New York Times, July 23, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-nursing-homes.html.
3 “As Coronavirus Raged Through Nursing Homes, Inspectors Found Nothing Wrong,” Jack Dolan & Brittny Mejia, June 28, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-06-28/coronavirus-nursing-homes-state-inspector-covid-19.
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