With portions of the country beginning to reopen, on May 18, 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued its recommendations to state and local officials for best practices regarding the reopening of nursing homes. Because nursing homes have been severely impacted by COVID-19, CMS issued a memorandum to state officials regarding the “level of mitigation needed to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in nursing homes.”

The recommendations cover a phased approach for three main topics:

  • Criteria for relaxing nursing home restrictions and mitigating the risk of resurgence of COVID-19 cases;
  • Visitation and services; and
  • Restoration of survey activities.

Because COVID-19 is affecting communities differently, CMS recognizes that each state and locality will need to individually evaluate how to implement the recommendations.  CMS encourages state and local officials to work with their state survey agencies to determine how to implement the phased reopening of nursing homes – whether to require all facilities to go through each phase simultaneously; to group certain regions together as they go through the phases; or to allow individual facilities to move through the phases as they meet the criteria.

Some factors to inform the decisions about relaxing nursing home restrictions include, but are not limited to:

  • The case status in the community (whether cases are increasing or declining);
  • Whether the nursing home has access to adequate testing for residents and staff (and laboratory processing of tests);
  • Whether the nursing home has adequate protocols for screening all persons who enter the facility and for addressing residents or staff who refuse testing; and
  • Whether the nursing home has adequate control measures – masks, social distancing, and handwashing/sanitizing – along with access to Personal Protective Equipment for staff.

Similar to the federal government’s guidance to state leaders for reopening the economy, CMS’s guidelines for nursing home are not binding on the states.  They are, however, prepared with a focus toward keeping residents of nursing homes and their caregivers safe from any further outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus.