Medicare To Ratchet Up Enforcement Against Nursing Homes As Coronavirus Fatalities Exceed 25,000

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Andrew Kerr Investigative Reporter
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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled enhanced enforcement actions on Monday against nursing homes after preliminary federal data shows that at least 25,923 nursing home residents across the country have died from coronavirus.

“This data, and anecdotal reports across the country, clearly show that nursing homes have been devastated by the virus,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma and Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield wrote in a letter to U.S. governors on Sunday.

CMS will ratchet up penalties for nursing homes with longstanding violations of infection control practices, according to the letter. Nursing homes that received low health survey scores from CMS prior to the coronavirus outbreak are more likely to have more cases among its residents than facilities that received high scores, according to the agency.

“The Trump Administration is taking consistent action to protect the vulnerable,” Verma said in a statement Monday. “While many nursing homes have performed well and demonstrated that it’s entirely possible to keep nursing homes patients safe, we are outlining new instructions for state survey agencies and enforcement actions for nursing homes that are not following federal safety requirements.”

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 07: Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, attends a briefing following a meeting of the coronavirus task force, in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on April 7, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump today removed the independent chairman of a committee tasked with overseeing the roll out of the $2 trillion coronavirus bailout package. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, attends a briefing following a meeting of the coronavirus task force, in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on April 7, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

At least 25,923 nursing home residents have died from coronavirus as of May 24 according to CMS, but those figures are likely to increase as only 80% of Medicare-regulated nursing homes have reported figures to the agency.

CMS’s figures are at least 14,000 deaths too low according to an NBC News tally that has tracked nearly 40,000 nursing home coronavirus deaths, which represents nearly 40% of all coronavirus deaths in the country.

New Jersey and New York lead the country in coronavirus deaths among nursing home residents, according to CMS’s figures.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has faced criticism for his March 25 order that nursing homes cannot deny admission to coronavirus patients, an order which critics say contributed to the state’s massive nursing home fatality rate.

Cuomo has has argued that his state’s directive was in line with a March 13 order from CMS that stated nursing homes “should admit any individuals they normally admit to their facility, including individuals from hospitals where a case of COVID-19 was/is present.”

Verma said last Wednesday that Cuomo was wrong to attempt to deflect blame for his order on the federal government. (RELATED: Medicare Chief Says Cuomo Is Wrong To Blame Trump Administration For His Nursing Home Order)

“Under no circumstances should a hospital discharge a patient to a nursing home that’s not prepared to take care of those patients’s needs,” the CMS chief said on Fox News Radio. “The federal guidelines are absolutely clear about this.”

“Yes, the nursing homes will have COVID positive people … if they are prepared to handle the unique needs of that patient,” Verma said. “Anytime you discharge a patent from the hospital it is the responsibility of the hospital to make sure that the patient is safe when they discharge them.”

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