Long Term Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities and/or Nursing Facilities): CMS Flexibilities to Fight COVID-19
CMS is empowered to take proactive steps through 1135 waivers as well as, where applicable, authority granted under section 1812(f) of the Social Security Act (the Act) and rapidly expand the Administration’s aggressive efforts against COVID-19. As a result, the following blanket waivers are in effect, with a retroactive effective date of March 1, 2020 through the end of the emergency declaration. For general information about waivers, see Attachment A to this document. These waivers DO NOT require a request to be sent to the email@example.com mailbox or that notification be made to any of CMS’s regional offices.
Long-Term Care Facilities and Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) and/or Nursing Facilities (NFs)
• 3-Day Prior Hospitalization. Using the authority under Section 1812(f) of the Act, CMS is waiving the requirement for a 3-day prior hospitalization for coverage of a SNF stay, which provides temporary emergency coverage of SNF services without a qualifying hospital stay, for those people who experience dislocations, or are otherwise affected by COVID-19. In addition, for certain beneficiaries who recently exhausted their SNF benefits, it authorizes renewed SNF coverage without first having to start a new benefit period (this waiver will apply only for those beneficiaries who have been delayed or prevented by the emergency itself from commencing or completing the process of ending their current benefit period and renewing their SNF benefits that would have occurred under normal circumstances).
• Reporting Minimum Data Set. CMS is waiving 42 CFR 483.20 to provide relief to SNFs on the timeframe requirements for Minimum Data Set assessments and transmission.
• Staffing Data Submission. CMS is waiving 42 CFR 483.70(q) to provide relief to long-term care facilities on the requirements for submitting staffing data through the Payroll-Based Journal system.
• Waive Pre-Admission Screening and Annual Resident Review (PASARR). CMS is waiving 42 CFR 483.20(k) allowing states and nursing homes to suspend these assessments for new residents for 30 days. After 30 days, new patients admitted to nursing homes with a mental illness (MI) or intellectual disability (ID) should receive the assessment as soon as resources become available.
• Physical Environment.
CMS is waiving requirements related at 42 CFR 483.90, specifically the following:
- Provided that the state has approved the location as one that sufficiently addresses safety and comfort for patients and staff, CMS is waiving requirements under § 483.90 to allow for a non-SNF building to be temporarily certified and available for use by a SNF in the event there are needs for isolation processes for COVID-19 positive residents, which may not be feasible in the existing SNF structure to ensure care and services during treatment for COVID-19 are available while protecting other vulnerable adults. CMS believes this will also provide another measure that will free up inpatient care beds at hospitals for the most acute patients while providing beds for those still in need of care. CMS will waive certain conditions of participation and certification requirements for opening a NF if the state determines there is a need to quickly stand up a temporary COVID-19 isolation and treatment location.
- CMS is also waiving requirements under 42 CFR 483.90 to temporarily allow for rooms in a long-term care facility not normally used as a resident’s room, to be used to accommodate beds and residents for resident care in emergencies and situations needed to help with surge capacity. Rooms that may be used for this purpose include activity rooms, meeting/conference rooms, dining rooms, or other rooms, as long as residents can be kept safe, comfortable, and other applicable requirements for participation are met. This can be done so long as it is not inconsistent with a state’s emergency preparedness or pandemic plan, or as directed by the local or state health department.
• Resident Groups. CMS is waiving the requirements at 42 CFR 483.10(f)(5), which ensure residents can participate in-person in resident groups. This waiver would only permit the facility to restrict in-person meetings during the national emergency given the recommendations of social distancing and limiting gatherings of more than ten people. Refraining from in-person gatherings will help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
• Training and Certification of Nurse Aides. CMS is waiving the requirements at 42 CFR 483.35(d) (with the exception of 42 CFR 483.35(d)(1)(i)), which require that a SNF and NF may not employ anyone for longer than four months unless they met the training and certification requirements under § 483.35(d). CMS is waiving these requirements to assist in potential staffing shortages seen with the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure the health and safety of nursing home residents, CMS is not waiving 42 CFR § 483.35(d)(1)(i), which requires facilities to not use any individual working as a nurse aide for more than four months, on a full-time basis, unless that individual is competent to provide nursing and nursing related services. We further note that we are not waiving § 483.35(c), which requires facilities to ensure that nurse aides are able to demonstrate competency in skills and techniques necessary to care for residents’ needs, as identified through resident assessments, and described in the plan of care.
• Physician Visits in Skilled Nursing Facilities/Nursing Facilities. CMS is waiving the requirement in 42 CFR 483.30 for physicians and non-physician practitioners to perform inperson visits for nursing home residents and allow visits to be conducted, as appropriate, via telehealth options.
• Resident roommates and grouping. CMS is waiving the requirements in 42 CFR 483.10(e) (5), (6), and (7) solely for the purposes of grouping or cohorting residents with respiratory illness symptoms and/or residents with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, and separating them from residents who are asymptomatic or tested negative for COVID-19. This action waives a facility’s requirements, under 42 CFR 483.10, to provide for a resident to share a room with his or her roommate of choice in certain circumstances, to provide notice and rationale for changing a resident’s room, and to provide for a resident’s refusal a transfer to another room in the facility. This aligns with CDC guidance to preferably place residents in locations designed to care for COVID-19 residents, to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 to other residents.
• Resident Transfer and Discharge. CMS is waiving requirements in 42 CFR 483.10(c)(5); 483.15(c)(3), (c)(4)(ii), (c)(5)(i) and (iv), (c)(9), and (d); and § 483.21(a)(1)(i), (a)(2)(i), and (b) (2)(i) (with some exceptions) to allow a long term care (LTC) facility to transfer or discharge residents to another LTC facility solely for the following cohorting purposes:
- Transferring residents with symptoms of a respiratory infection or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 to another facility that agrees to accept each specific resident, and is dedicated to the care of such residents;
- Transferring residents without symptoms of a respiratory infection or confirmed to not have COVID-19 to another facility that agrees to accept each specific resident, and is dedicated to the care of such residents to prevent them from acquiring COVID-19; or
- Transferring residents without symptoms of a respiratory infection to another facility that agrees to accept each specific resident to observe for any signs or symptoms of a respiratory infection over 14 days.
• These requirements are only waived in cases where the transferring facility receives confirmation that the receiving facility agrees to accept the resident to be transferred or discharged. Confirmation may be in writing or verbal. If verbal, the transferring facility needs to document the date, time and person that the receiving facility communicated agreement.
• In § 483.10, we are only waiving the requirement, under § 483.10(c)(5), that a facility provide advance notification of options relating to the transfer or discharge to another facility. Otherwise, all requirements related to § 483.10 are not waived. Similarly, in § 483.15, we are only waiving the requirement, under § 483.15(c)(3), (c)(4)(ii), (c)(5)(i) and (iv), and (d), for the written notice of transfer or discharge to be provided before the transfer or discharge. This notice must be provided as soon as practicable.
• In § 483.21, we are only waiving the timeframes for certain care planning requirements for residents who are transferred or discharged for the purposes explained in 1–3 above. Receiving facilities should complete the required care plans as soon as practicable, and we expect receiving facilities to review and use the care plans for residents from the transferring facility, and adjust as necessary to protect the health and safety of the residents the apply to.
• These requirements are also waived when the transferring residents to another facility, such as a COVID-19 isolation and treatment location, with the provision of services “under arrangements,” as long as it is not inconsistent with a state’s emergency preparedness or pandemic plan, or as directed by the local or state health department. In these cases, the transferring LTC facility need not issue a formal discharge, as it is still considered the provider and should bill Medicare normally for each day of care. The transferring LTC facility is then responsible for reimbursing the other provider that accepted its resident(s) during the emergency period.
• If the LTC facility does not intend to provide services under arrangement, the COVID-19 isolation and treatment facility is the responsible entity for Medicare billing purposes. The LTC facility should follow the procedures described in 40.3.4 of the Medicare Claims Processing Manual (https://www.cms.gov/Regulations-andGuidance/Guidance/Manuals/Downloads/clm104c06.pdf) to submit a discharge bill to Medicare. The COVID-19 isolation and treatment facility should then bill Medicare appropriately for the type of care it is providing for the beneficiary. If the COVID-19 isolation and treatment facility is not yet an enrolled provider, the facility should enroll through the provider enrollment hotline for the Medicare Administrative Contractor that services their geographic area to establish temporary Medicare billing privileges.
We remind LTC facilities that they are responsible for ensuring that any transfers (either within a facility, or to another facility) are conducted in a safe and orderly manner, and that each resident’s health and safety is protected. We also remind states that under 42 CFR 488.426(a)(1), in an emergency, the State has the authority to transfer Medicaid and Medicare residents to another facility.