Local nursing homes react to new federal guidelines for coronavirus reporting


UPDATE 12:28 p.m.: Dr. Norman Oliver, the Virginia State Health Commissioner, announced Tuesday, April 21 that Long-term Care Facilities (LTCFs) and Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) in neighboring areas can share information — including case identification and contact investigation efforts — on positive coronavirus cases.

VDH released the following statement on Wednesday, April 22:

Under Section 32.1-41 of the Code of Virginia, the State Health Commissioner has the authority to release Public Health Information (PHI) if it is pertinent to an investigation.  Although these health care providers are permitted to share this information, these details remain confidential, per the Code of Virginia, and will not be released to the public.

Many essential health care employees work at multiple facilities, serving Virginia’s most vulnerable during this pandemic.  Out of concern for their safety and the safety of patients, the State Health Commissioner is releasing this information to aid VDH’s state and local efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Maria Reppas
Virginia Department of Health Communications Director

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) – Nursing homes and senior care facilities across the country will soon be required to notify patients, their families, and health officials if someone at the facility tests positive for COVID-19.

Seema Verma, an administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), made the announcement during a press briefing at the White House on March 19.

Health officials are continuing to see an alarming rise of confirmed cases at nursing homes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 1,500 people in nursing homes or long term care facilities have died of the virus since the pandemic began.

According the new directive, CMS guidelines will soon:

  • Provide nursing homes with information on how to report confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases to the CDC. Previously, direct reporting to the CDC was optional.
  • Require nursing homes to notify all its patients and employees within 12 hours of when an infectious disease is reported in the building.
  • Require facilities to provide weekly updates on the situation, or whenever three or more cases of infection are reported within three days of each other.

The directive says failure to report any COVID-19 cases could result in “enforcement action” against the facility.

Nursing homes and senior care facilities throughout Southwest Virginia have implemented necessary protocols prior to the new CMS guidelines.

Since February, the Brandon Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Roanoke has created a specialized task force and established strict healthy and safety procedures for the health and safety of their 75 residents and staff.

Restrictions for the facility include limiting visitors, installing portable sinks, initiating a screening process to check temperatures of staff members, and limiting items such as letters and packages from coming in and out of the building.

The administrator says the new directive is needed for all nursing homes during these times of concern.

“It’s good to have a standard way of reporting for everybody so we all inform them the same way, but also that we all learn about what’s going on in the region and the area. It just helps us all be better informed, better prepared,” says Esteban Duran-Ballen, Administrator at the Brandon Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Restricting family members from visiting loved ones at the facility has been the most difficult protocol they have implemented so far, but he says it’s for a good reason.

“It’s been well-documented that this virus is specifically harmful and critical for people that are advanced age and also for those that have underlying medical conditions. In a nursing home: we have both. The average age of our residents is close to 90-years-old and every single one of them has underlying medical conditions. So, that alone puts them at a higher risk,” says Duran-Ballen.

Nevertheless, the facility remains in constant communication with staff, residents, and family members every day, keeping them well-informed about what’s going on at the facility.

At this time, there are no confirmed or suspects cases of COVID-19 at the facility.

WFXR News obtained an official statement regarding the latest directive from the Friendship Health and Living Community in Roanoke.

Here at Friendship, it has and will continue to be our policy to be forthright and transparent with our reporting.  COVID-19 is a very serious concern, especially for the people we serve and employ.  We have two skilled nursing facilities that are set up to accommodate a total of 340+ residents and patients.  That’s a large group of people who are up in age, in rather close proximity to each other, being cared for by team members, who by nature of their job, are often close to provide personal care. 

Our mission is supporting friends and providing peace of mind.  By implementing the recommendations and procedures, we are doing our part to provide support and peace of mind to all involved.  The same goes for reporting.  It is for the best interest of our residents, our team members, family members and the greater community to be aware and informed.  As we better understand the new directive and its guidelines, if needed, we will adjust our processes and protocol accordingly.

In the meanwhile, we appreciate the greater community’s support, understanding and encouragement as we strive to protect the health, safety and well-being of everyone in our community.

Ben Higgins
Friendship Vice President of Healthcare Operations

WFXR News has also reached out to South Roanoke Nursing Home. Three staff members and a resident have been tested positive for coronavirus, according to the facility’s parent company.

They have yet to respond to our request.


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