Area Agency on Aging: CMS announces guidelines for reopening nursing homes

By Kay Kaylor
PREVIEW Columnist

I advocate for residents in extended care and assisted living residences as the region’s lead long-term care ombudsman. I also am a Senior Medicare Patrol and State Health Insurance Assistance Program counselor, all as an employee of San Juan Basin Area Agency on Aging (SJBAAA). Information on the many aging and care concerns will be included here.

Like all communities, long-term care ombudsmen nationally have expressed various feelings from the uncertainty due to visiting restrictions for residents in facilities. Unable to verify for themselves what is happening inside facilities, the ombudsmen work on what they can control and are awaiting guidance from a Recovery and Reentry Resources Workgroup.

In the meantime, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued on May 18 its guidelines for reopening nursing homes. The recommendations for state and local officials are divided into three phases tied into the Opening Up America Again phases. The criteria consider the severe impact COVID-19 outbreaks have had on facilities, leading to high rates of infection and death. 

The “vulnerable nature of the nursing home population, combined with the inherent risks of congregate living in a healthcare setting, requires aggressive efforts to limit COVID-19 exposure,” the memo states.

CMS urges careful review of its criteria and actions at both local and state levels, with health officials, including the state inspection agency, collaborating and considering options that could vary by each facility and county. Factors to evaluate include the case status in the community and in the facilities, adequate staffing at each nursing home and access to testing, with the minimum capacity to weekly test all residents and staff until all test negative. The nursing homes must have an arrangement with labs to process highly effective tests within 48 hours and, as before, written protocols for screening staff, residents and visitors.

Other important factors follow: The facilities also should have control over visitors to ensure the wearing of a face covering, maintaining of social distancing, and washing or sanitizing of hands. The local hospital should be able to accept transfers from the nursing homes. Finally, staff must have access to enough personal protective equipment based on federal or other guidelines.

For facilities that have had a “significant” outbreak, CMS recommends a state health department survey before reopening. Reopening also should not occur until 14 days after a community’s phased reopening.

SJBAAA offers resources for people age 60 and older or on Medicare. For further information, please call or text 403-2165 or send an email to


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This story was posted on May 29, 2020.