On March 23rd, 2020, CMS announced a newly “enhanced, focused inspection process” to be implemented nationally in light of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and released guidance to state survey agency directors.  Standard and Revisit Inspections for nursing homes, hospitals, home health agencies, intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, and hospices will not be conducted over the next few weeks. This suspension is a change from the March 4th CMS announcement, which designated initial assessments, standard inspections, and revisit surveys as low priority.

In the wake of the Kirkland facility outbreak of coronavirus in Washington state, CMS has refocused its attention on means by which inspections can minimize the impact of COVID-19 in certain facilities. Although these focused inspections are not limited to specific provider types, CMS will continue to prioritize Nursing Homes in areas heavily impacted by the coronavirus due to the increased risks associated with living in close quarters and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the elderly population. Infection control and Immediate Jeopardy, specifically a provider’s plan to address a rapid increase in respiratory infection, will be the main components of these targeted inspections.

CMS’ announcement highlighted the significant number of Nursing Home residents impacted by COVID-19 – the CDC has identified 147 Nursing Homes in 27 states that currently have one or more instances of COVID-19. CMS’ press release states that these targeted inspections will focus solely on reducing the spread of COVID-19. According to CMS Administrator Seema Verma’s prepared statement, federal surveyors will conduct these targeted inspections using a revised Infection Control protocol “specifically adapted to preventing the transmission of coronavirus.” CMS is encouraging facility self-assessment using a tool that provides checklist items so providers can determine their individual risk profiles and implement any necessary changes. The Infection Control protocol and the COVID-19 facility self-inspection form have not yet been made available.  CMS stated that it “is not seeking to be punitive, but rather to respond to urgent issues while proactively ensuring providers are compliant with federal health and safety standards.”

Norton Rose Fulbright lawyers will continue to monitor revised inspection protocols and provide updates pertinent to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Health Law Pulse.