The White House on Monday unveiled a slew of proposed changes to how U.S. nursing homes are regulated and run, including a vow to adopt federal minimum staffing requirements for facilities, step up enforcement of regulations and crack down on overcrowded rooms.
President Joe Biden touched on the reforms during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, saying federal officials will “set higher standards for nursing homes and make sure your loved ones get the care they deserve and that they expect."
The announcement comes as the pandemic has ravaged U.S. long-term care facilities, where 200,000 residents and workers have died from COVID-19. These facilities have been plagued by staffing shortages for years, but they’ve gotten much worse during the pandemic and threaten resident care and infection control.
“Establishing a minimum staffing level ensures that all nursing home residents are provided safe, quality care and that workers have the support they need to provide high-quality care,” the White House said in a press release. “Nursing homes will be held accountable if they fail to meet this standard.”
Exactly what that standard looks like — or how facilities will be held accountable — are to be determined. Several aspects of Biden’s proposed nursing home reforms will need to clear public comment periods and other regulatory processes or require congressional action to take effect.
But resident advocates praised the announcement. “Not every issue gets mentioned in the State of the Union,” said Rhonda Richards, AARP’s senior legislative representative in government affairs. “It is significant that the president is talking about this. His plan will take important steps to better protect seniors in nursing homes and includes key policies that AARP has been advocating on.”
Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), told AARP in an interview that she has “personally met with nursing home residents, with CNAs — with certified nursing assistants — as well as the industry and ombudsmen to really hear what is happening on the ground.”
“We have an ambitious agenda,” Brooks-LaSure says. “All of the things we’re doing are really focused on helping caregivers to be able to make better decisions if nursing home care is the right decision for their loved one.”