The Biden administration has announced far-reaching nursing home reforms, targeting staffing and accountability at facilities with deficient care. Advocates are calling the proposals, which include the first-ever federal minimum staffing levels, the most significant reforms in decades.
Nursing homes have been plagued by chronic understaffing and high turnover rates for years, a problem only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies have revealed that nursing home staffing levels are often inadequate and inaccurately reported and recent research found that increasing staffing by just 20 minutes a day led to fewer COVID cases and deaths. Meanwhile, there is evidence that most nursing homes have inadequate infection control measures in place.
Currently there are no minimum staffing levels for nurse's aides, who provide most of the day-to-day care. Instead, nursing homes are required "to provide sufficient staff and services to attain or maintain the highest possible level of physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident."
Recognizing these issues, President Biden announced new measures aimed at improving the safety and quality of care in nursing homes. The Biden administration’s proposals include taking the following actions:
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which regulates nursing homes, will study the level and type of staffing needed to ensure safe and quality care and propose minimum staffing levels within a year.
- CMS will explore ways to phase out multi-occupancy rooms and promote single-occupancy rooms.
- The administration will call on Congress to provide $500 million for health and safety inspections, a 25 percent increase.
- CMS will increase enforcement actions against poor-performing facilities. After reversing a Trump era change that imposed a one-time fine for nursing home deficiencies, CMS will explore making per-day penalties the default penalty.
- In an effort to increase transparency of nursing home ownership, CMS will create a database to track nursing home owners and operators across states. In addition, the government will investigate the role private equity firms play in buying and selling nursing homes.
The Consumer Voice, an advocacy group for long-term care issues, calls the proposals the “most significant reforms in nursing homes in decades.” Terry Fulmer, president of the nonprofit John A. Hartford Foundation, which works to improve long-term care, calls the plan “a major step forward for quality and safety in our nation’s nursing homes.”