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 Coronavirus Outbreak Marks Good Time for Facilities to Review Infection Control Policies

Amidst a worldwide health alert over the deadly Chinese-born coronavirus outbreak, officials in the United States have taken steps in recent weeks to review and improve infection control measures at any number of government-run facilities, and seek compliance with Medicare rules and regulations on control procedures for those providers in the program.

Sources in the long term and post-acute care profession said these precautionary steps taken by federal and state authorities mark a good time for skilled nursing and assisted living facilities to become proactive in order to reduce the chances for the spread of what is now known as the 2019-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

Pamela Truscott, senior manager, clinical and regulatory services, for the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), tells Provider that even though there is currently a low risk of exposure to the virus for the vast majority of Americans, the outbreak is an opportunity to prepare just in case.

“Centers should act now to help reduce the potential for spread should the virus take hold,” she says. “As such, it’s a good time to review one’s infection prevention and control policies and procedures, including transmission-based precautions, among residents and staff as this is key to not only prevention of coronavirus but other viruses, including influenza, from spreading.”

Truscott says facilities should ensure that they are practicing proper hand hygiene and have a properly trained infection preventionist who can take the lead on facility risk assessment for this and other infections.

In addition, she says through the AHCA/NCAL Infection Prevention Control Officer (IPCO) training course, individuals will be specially trained to effectively implement and manage an infection prevention and control program in their nursing center or assisted living community.  

“We are closely monitoring this virus and are in close contact with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and working with state officials to communicate information and materials with our members,” Truscott says.

Just this week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said it is taking “critical steps” to ensure health care facilities and clinical laboratories are prepared to respond to the threat of the virus, which has killed more than 1,300 people thus far in China and infected at least 15 in the United States as of Feb. 13.

Specifically, CMS issued two memoranda to advise health care providers and state survey agencies with information about infection control procedures and the use of certain laboratory tests.

“Every Medicare-participating facility in the nation’s health care system must adhere to standards for infection prevention and control in order to provide safe, high-quality care,” CMS said.

CMS also said it has developed a new Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System code for providers and laboratories to test patients for SARS-CoV-2. “This code will allow those labs conducting the tests to bill for the specific test instead of using an unspecified code, which means better tracking of the public health response for this particular strain of the coronavirus to help protect people from the spread of this infectious disease,” the agency said.  

More information about CMS’s efforts to help facilities prepare for coronavirus is at www.cms.gov/medicareprovider-enrollment-and-certificationsurveycertificationgeninfopolicy-and-memos-states-and/information-healthcare-facilities-concerning-2019-novel-coronavirus-illness-2019-ncov.

Information on AHCA/NCAL IPCO training is at https://educate.ahcancal.org/products/infection-preventionist-specialized-training-ipco#tab-product_tab_overview.

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