Federal Government Should Require Transparency Regarding COVID-19 in Nursing Facilities

Justice in Aging calls on the federal government to immediately require that nursing facilities be completely transparent regarding the presence of COVID-19.

Since early March, when COVID-19 rushed through a Seattle-area nursing facility, it has become clear that transparency regarding the presence of COVID-19 in nursing facilities and other institutional settings is vital. Yet, more than six weeks later, secrecy remains the norm.

Late Sunday, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a “transparency effort” regarding nursing facilities and COVID-19. But this effort hasn’t yet made any changes. It merely establishes the agency’s intent to release regulations and other technical guidance. The promised regulations will require only that facilities disclose information to residents and their representatives. And the promised technical guidance will require that facilities submit information to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, without clear indication on if and how that information will be shared with the general public.

Some states already are posting facility-specific lists that include the number of residents and staff members with COVID-19 infections, and the number of fatalities attributable to a facility. There is no reason why at least this level of disclosure could not be the standard across the country.

CMS should immediately require nursing facilities to disclose the number of residents who are COVID-positive, the number of staff members who are COVID-positive, and the number of fatalities attributable to COVID-19 from the facility. And this data must be broken down by age and race to provide a complete picture of how the disease is progressing through our communities. This information must be posted at the facility and on its website, communicated to residents’ family members and representatives, and shared with CMS and the state survey and certification agency. In turn, the state must be required to compile this information and share it online. Nursing facility residents and their families deserve this level of transparency.

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