Big, big changes coming to nursing home regulation thanks to pandemic's destruction, Grabowski says
Because of the devastation COVID-19 has wrought on nursing homes, regulatory changes likely are coming, according to a highly respected long-term care researcher.
"I think we're going to see some big, big changes going forward" said David Grabowski, PH.D., a professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School. He was the opening day keynote speaker Friday for the virtual conference of the National Association fro the Support of Long Term Care(NASL).
The plethora of pandemic-related problems - among them, the exorbitant number of resident and staff deaths, low occupancy rates and hospital admission rates - has revealed underlying systemic problems, Grabowski said. These include: low Medicaid payments, inadequate pay for staffing, an ineffective regulatory model, lack of quality transparency and fragmented ownership structures.
"COVID-19 has revealed the fragility of nursing homes' business model and our under investment in high-quality long-term care," said Grabowski. He served on the Coronavirus Commissions for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes, which released a report in September that provided 27 recommendations and over 100 action steps for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The report analyzed areas ranging from testing to access to visitation to aging nursing homes' infrastructure.
In the long run, the goal is to re-imagine nursing homes, he said Friday, noting that there likely will be a shift away from nursing homes to home and community based care settings.
Among the changes he'd like to see are smaller nursing home settings, such as the Green House model of care, which has endured fewer deaths from the pandemic. He also noted, however, that such a model has implementation challenges.
Grabowski provided other steps that could strengthen U.S. nursing homes in the post-pandemic world:
Realign Medicare and Medicaid payments to approximate costs
Encourage policies that increase the number of clinicians on-site
Ensure payments flow to direct caregivers via wage floors and wage pass-through
Establish minimum nurse and nurse aide staffing standards
Increase quality transparency
Enable better enforcement and quality improvement through regulatory reform
Invest in Medicaid home and community-based services
Establish a public long-term benefit
Alternative Pay Models
During the questions and answer portion of the presentation, Grabowski noted that some alternative payment models are promising. Institutional special needs plan(I-SNP), for example, emphasize more clinical care and pay nursing homes to provide this higher-quality care.
"It's almost a win-win," he said. Grabowski, who recently co-authored a study on the potential benefits of bundled payments for nursing homes, also sees positive aspects of this model for nursing homes.
"I really like models that engage nursing homes and don't pull dollars out," he said.
During the presentation, Grabowski talked about the government's nursing home testing misstep.
While its rollout of rapid antigen testing instruments to nursing homes over the summer was initially encouraging, it has not been a game-changer because of concerns about accuracy, weather staff know how to use them, and how nursing homes will have to pay for testing supplies going forward.
"This should have been our priority from the beginning and I believe we were slow here," He said.
Even at the end of September, less than 17% of facilities were averaging test results returns in less than a day, he said.
"We need testing in less than a day if this is really going to be effective," he said
One of the biggest problems the pandemic has revealed is the lack of investment in staff, from poor pay to lack of personal protective equipment and testing, he said. Nursing homes need to provide hazard pay, a living wage and non-punitive sick leave to staff, among other benefits.
He noted that the death count among staff has surpassed that of logging workers and commercial fishermen - the two most dangerous professions in the Unites States before the pandemic. Now, with more then 1,000 staff deaths in nursing homes, the caregiver is "the most dangerous job in America," he said.