HHS sends $523 million to nursing homes that best handled COVID-19

HHS plans to distribute $523 million to more than 9,000 nursing homes for their performance in handling COVID-19, the agency said Monday. The payments, which will be made through the Health Resources and Services Administration, will be sent to nursing homes that reduced COVID-19 deaths and infections from September to October, HHS said.

“As we approach the rollout of safe and effective vaccines for our most vulnerable, we continue the innovative program we created this year to incentivize and assist nursing homes in battling COVID-19 and applying the right infection control practices,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a prepared statement. “This half a billion dollars in incentive payments will reward nursing homes that have shown results in their tireless work to keep their residents safe from the virus.”

The payments are the second in a five-phase $2-billion incentive program, the Nursing Home Quality Incentive Program, and will be distributed starting Dec. 9.

During a press call Monday, a senior HHS official said the agency “would be delighted if the payments for the November period continue to exceed $500 million” because that would mean facilities were improving on infection and mortality rates, even though that could exceed the $2-billion pool of funds set aside for the program. In October, HHS doled out $333 million to more than 10,000 nursing homes for September performance.

In the second round, 9,248—69% of those eligible—met the program’s infection control criteria, compared to 10,631 nursing homes the previous month, HHS said.

“While less than the first cycle, the collective efforts of these nursing homes resulted in over 3,900 fewer infections relative to the rates seen in the communities where they exist,” HHS said.

There were 9,128 nursing homes—68% of those eligible—that met the program’s mortality criteria in the second round.

News of the new funding comes days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice recommended that healthcare workers and nursing home residents should be in the first phase of those receiving COVID-19 vaccination.

“Placing nursing home residents and health care personnel at the top of the list for the COVID-19 vaccine will be a game-changer in what has been a difficult fight against the pandemic,” HHS said Monday.

As of Nov. 22, there were 354,313 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 169,711 suspected cases and 72,642 deaths among nursing homes residents in the U.S., according to the latest CMS data. American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Mark Parkinson said Monday that nursing home cases are increasing by 18,000 per week and nursing home deaths are increasing by 2,000 per week.

Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, which represents aging services providers, said the second round of funding “is a testament to the perseverance and commitment of nursing homes to ensuring residents’ well-being under tremendously challenging circumstances.”

Smith Sloan said that nursing homes could protect more residents and staff with additional resources and called on Congress to send more relief to long-term care.

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