Nursing home residents are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, so Governor Cuomo has suspended all non-medically necessary visits to nursing homes until further notice.  There are limited exceptions, such as end-of-life situations, that you should discuss directly with the facility.  In the meantime, you should try to keep in contact as much as possible with your loved one through telephone, Skype, FaceTime and other remote methods.  Even writing letters and sending cards will show them that you’re still thinking of them!  Contact your loved one’s facility to inquire about setting up video chat services with your loved one if they cannot communicate with you via telephone.

Nursing home inspections by Ombudsmen and the Department of Health have also been affected.  Ombudsmen are generally able to speak to residents of a facility by phone but may not be able to see the resident in person.  There are still many things that the Ombudsmen can do to ensure that your loved one is receiving adequate care.  You can find contact information for the Ombudsman that serves your county here: https://aging.ny.gov/locationsearch/ombudsmen.

In all nursing homes across NYS, the facility is required to test all staff members for COVID twice per week.  Staff members who refuse testing will not be allowed to work.  Nursing homes can face financial penalties or have their license to operate revoked if they do not comply with this policy.

If family members or residents have concerns about the level of care a resident is receiving, they should file complaints with the Department of Health at 1-888-201-4563.  If there is a concern about abuse or neglect, please contact the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Unit at (800) 771-7755 or online at https://ag.ny.gov/medicaid-fraud/contact.

Nursing homes are being directed to readmit residents returning from hospitals as quickly as possible, and hospitals are proceeding with expedited discharges when the resident is medically stable.  However, a hospital must perform a COVID test on the patient and get a negative result before that patient is discharged to a nursing home.  Hospital discharge planners must confirm with the nursing home that the resident is medically stable and able to return, and that the nursing home can adequately care for the patient.  They also must provide the nursing home with comprehensive discharge instructions.  Nursing homes are not permitted to refuse readmission to a resident solely because of a prior COVID-19 diagnosis.  Residents or resident advocates who are concerned about discharge from a hospital to a nursing home for any reason (whether the discharge is happening before a patient is stable, or whether a patient is being refused readmission for inappropriate reasons) should file complaints with the Department of Health at 1-888-201-4563.

If a family decides to take a loved one out of a nursing home to stay with the family during the COVID pandemic, the nursing home may charge a “bed hold” fee to hold the resident’s place in the nursing home until they return.  Although this fee is no longer mandated by Medicaid, individual facilities may charge it at their discretion.  Residents and families who are interested in the resident leaving the nursing home during the COVID pandemic should discuss this with the resident’s primary physician and the facility discharge planning team.  Specifically, residents and families should consider whether the resident is capable of living with a family member instead of in the facility, and whether the family members are capable of providing a safe level of care, in addition to whether the facility will charge a “bed hold” fee.

Currently, nursing homes are also required to notify state and local authorities of confirmed or suspected COVID-positive cases among residents.  Nursing homes are also required to notify residents and the resident’s family or support person about positive COVID cases.  These COVID-positive case reporting requirements apply to residents and staff, and should also include information on efforts the facility is making to mitigate the risk of transmission.  These reporting requirements must comply with applicable privacy regulations.

For additional information on this subject, please see CELJ’s recent blog posts on COVID-19 Reporting Requirements in Nursing Homes, Self-Advocacy for Nursing Home Residents and Families here.