Trump administration announces $5B COVID-19 relief funds, future testing requirements for nursing homes

The Trump administration is allocating an additional $5 billion in COVID-19 relief funds to Medicare-certified long-term care facilities and state veteran nursing homes in hot spots where the virus is has begun spiking again.

President Donald Trump announced the funding, part of the Provider Relief Fund authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, during an evening briefing Wednesday amid a fierce resurgence of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in several areas around the country.

At least 57,000 nursing home residents and workers in the U.S. have died from the novel coronavirus, representing more than 40% of the deaths from the virus since it began to spread, The New York Times reported in late June.  Last week, national nursing home organizations warned state governors that new outbreaks of COVID-19 in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are "imminent" in light of the spikes in several states around the country, including Florida, Texas, Arizona and California.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said more details would be coming on how the funds would be distributed. But she did say they would be targeted to nursing homes in "hot spots" that are experiencing "significant case loads."

The funding will be used for meeting critical needs in nursing homes such as hiring additional staff, implementing infection control "mentorship" programs with subject matter experts, increased testing and services such as technology that connects residents with their families.

RELATED: Nursing home organizations warn governors of 'imminent' COVID-19 outbreaks

Wednesday, officials announced CMS will issue a proposed rule to require, rather than recommend, all nursing homes in states with a 5% positivity rate or greater to test all nursing home staff each week. Funds from the Provider Relief Fund will be able to be used for that testing, as well as for additional testing of visitors, officials said.

Since April, nursing homes have been required to report if they have positive COVID-19 cases to residents and their families. But CMS will begin requiring expanded reporting to ensure that information makes it back to state officials.

“Based on our nationwide data reporting system, we will be distributing to governors on a weekly basis a list of nursing homes with increased cases," Verma said. "This will give state officials an opportunity to intervene in those facilities with three or more cases as soon as possible to minimize the risk to residents. There’s also a requirement for states to inspect those nursing homes when there are three or more cases."

CMS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are rolling out a online, on-demand Nursing Home COVID-19 Training focused on infection control and best practices. Nursing homes must participate in the training to qualify for a piece of the $5 billion of the relief funding.

CMS recently deployed federal task force/strike teams to provide on-site technical assistance and education to 18 nursing homes experiencing outbreaks across Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

RELATED: Staffing nursing homes was hard before the pandemic. Now it's even tougher

"This is a war, and we are constantly evolving our strategy to address the situation on the ground," Verma said during a call with reporters in response to a question asking why more steps, such as requiring testing of staff and visitors, weren't taken earlier. "From the very beginning, we immediately said, 'No visitors.' After that, we issued a series of regulations and guidance to nursing homes to help them prepare. We talked about the priorities for testing in nursing homes, we urged governors to do testing across the board, we've provided resources to nursing homes in terms of supplies. We are constantly always assessing what we need to do."