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Investigations Looking Into Potential Nursing Home Neglect Linked To COVID-19 Outbreaks

Federal health officials have launched a series of investigations into infection control programs at certain nursing homes, to help determine why the COVID-19 pandemic has hit certain facilities so hard and whether nursing home neglect has played a key role in the spread of the disease.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) launched three investigations into nursing home procedures throughout the month of May, including two announced last Friday dealing directly with the handling of COVID-19 outbreaks. The two new COVID-19 investigations are part of the agency’s 2020 Work Plan.

There are more than 1.3 million residents in over 15,000 Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes throughout the United States, and infection control is an essential part of the industry’s responsibility to protect residents, which includes the elderly and other individuals at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

According to recent data, nursing home and long-term care residents account for almost half of the nearly 100,000 COVID-19 deaths throughout the United States.

As a result of the scope of the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) directed State Survey Agencies (SSAs) to suspend standard onsite surveys and only to respond to serious complaints, which are those involving immediate jeopardy and complaints related to infection control.

One of the new investigations by the OIG looks at nursing home oversight during the pandemic and the result of the CMS survey policy, the current rate and thoroughness of the surveys, and potential problems with the use of abbreviated surveys focused only on infection control policies/ The OIG will present potential solutions to any problems discovered sometime later this year.

The other COVID-19 related investigation involves an audit of nursing home infection prevention and control programs. This investigation, requested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will look at selected nursing homes’ to determine the effectiveness of their infection control procedures and whether they are meeting federal requirements. It will also be completed later this year.

The third investigation, monitoring psychotropic drug use in nursing homes, is not related to the pandemic and was requested by the CMS. The investigators will look into whether psychotropic and antipsychotic drug use is being underreported and whether facilities are inaccurately reporting patient diagnoses in order to avoid detection by inspectors. The OIG anticipates completing this investigation sometime in 2021.

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