CMS: COVID Testing and Screening Guidance for SNF and Long-Term Care Facilities
On August 25, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published an interim final rule with a comment period titled “Medicare and Medicaid Programs, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA), and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Additional Policy and Regulatory Revisions in Response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.” The interim final rule sets forth a number of new requirements designed to limit the COVID-19 exposure and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within nursing homes.
Specifically, the interim final rule requires skilled nursing and other long-term care facilities to test residents and staff for COVID-19. The frequency of such testing is based on the positivity rate in which the facility is located, and can require COVID-19 testing as frequently as twice per week. Regardless of the frequency of required COVID-19 tests, facilities must also screen all staff, residents, and persons entering the facility for the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
These requirements extend to individuals that provide services to nursing homes under arrangements, including health care personnel rendering care to residents within the facility. In subsequent guidance, CMS clarified that these testing and screening requirements apply to EMS personnel and other health care providers that render care to residents within the facility. However, in that same guidance, CMS indicated that EMS personnel must be permitted to enter the facility provided that: (1) they are not subject to a work exclusion as a result of to an exposure to COVID-19 or (2) showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 after being screened.” CMS further indicated that “EMS personnel do not need to be screened so they can attend to an emergency without delay.”
In plain terms, CMS has created an affirmative obligation on nursing homes to ensure that any individual that provides services under a contractual arrangement with the nursing home comply with these testing and screening requirements. CMS has expressly waived the screening requirements for EMS personnel responding to medical emergencies at a nursing home. However, CMS has not specifically addressed the testing and screening requirements applicable to EMS personnel responding to nursing homes in non-emergency situations.
The A.A.A. is aware that a handful of State Health Agencies have issued their own guidance on this issue. The A.A.A. is also aware that individual nursing homes have started to require proof that EMS personnel have been tested for COVID-19 prior to allowing these individuals to enter the nursing home in a non-emergency situation.
EMS agencies may already be subject to state and local testing mandates. EMS agencies may also have their own internal policies that require employees to be periodically tested for COVID-19. As a result, there exists the potential for conflict where these existing testing policies conflict with the testing requirements of your local nursing homes.
The A.A.A. has been engaged in an ongoing conversation with CMS on these issues since the issuance of the interim final rule in August. As part of that conversation, the A.A.A. pushed for the exclusion of EMS personnel from the screening requirement when responding to medical emergencies, which was included in the recent CMS guidance document. The A.A.A. also continues to push for additional funding for COVID-19 testing for EMS agencies. CMS has recognized that the frequent testing of health care workers is essential to reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus. CMS has allocated funding for these purposes to other industries, including hospitals and nursing homes. As front-line health care workers, EMS agencies should have similar access to testing funds. The A.A.A. will continue to push for funding equity for the EMS industry.
In the interim, we strongly encourage our members to work with their state associations and other stakeholders to advocate for reasonable rules related to testing on the state and local levels. To the extent the applicable state or local agency has determined the appropriate frequency for the testing of EMS personnel responding to medical emergencies, those rules should also apply to EMS personnel responding to scheduled transports and other non-emergencies that start or end at a nursing home. Requiring more frequent testing in these situations would impose an undue burden on EMS agencies that provide these services. More frequent testing may also prove counterproductive, as it may discourage EMS agencies that cannot meet these higher requirements from responding in these situations. We also encourage our members to continue to push for state and local funding for the testing of their employees.