Updated COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Blanket Waivers for Health Care Providers

Mary Madison, RN, RAC-CT, CDP
Clinical Consultant – Briggs Healthcare

CMS issued an updated document yesterday – May 11, 2020.  This 40-page document includes some new blanket waivers:

  • Expanded Ability for Hospitals to Offer Long-term Care Services (“Swing-Beds”) for Patients Who do not Require Acute Care but do Meet the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) Level of Care Criteria as Set Forth at 42 CFR 409.31. (New since 4/30 Release)

In order to qualify for this waiver, hospitals must:

o Not use SNF swing beds for acute level care.

o Comply with all other hospital conditions of participation and those SNF provisions set out at 42 CFR 482.58(b) to the extent not waived.

o Be consistent with the state’s emergency preparedness or pandemic plan.

Hospitals must call the CMS Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) enrollment hotline to add swing bed services. The hospital must attest to CMS that:

o They have made a good faith effort to exhaust all other options;

o There are no skilled nursing facilities within the hospital’s catchment area that under normal circumstances would have accepted SNF transfers, but are currently not willing to accept or able to take patients because of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE);

o The hospital meets all waiver eligibility requirements; and

o They have a plan to discharge patients as soon as practicable, when a SNF bed becomes available, or when the PHE ends, whichever is earlier.

  • Hospitals Classified as Sole Community Hospitals (SCHs) (New since 4/30 Release)

  • Hospitals Classified as Medicare-Dependent, Small Rural Hospitals (MDHs) (New since 4/30 Release)
  • Paid Feeding Assistants. (New since 4/30 Release)

    CMS is modifying the requirements at 42 CFR §§ 483.60(h)(1)(i) and 483.160(a) regarding required training of paid feeding assistants. Specifically, CMS is modifying the minimum timeframe requirements in these sections, which require this training to be a minimum of 8 hours. CMS is modifying to allow that the training can be a minimum of 1 hour in length. CMS is not waiving any other requirements under 42 CFR §483.60(h) related to paid feeding assistants or the required training content at 42 CFR §483.160(a)(1)-(8), which contains infection control training and other elements. Additionally, CMS is also not waiving or modifying the requirements at 42 CFR §483.60(h)(2)(i), which requires that a feeding assistant must work under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN).
  • Allow Occupational Therapists (OTs), Physical Therapists (PTs), and Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) to Perform Initial and Comprehensive Assessment for all Patients. (Revised since 4/30 Release)

    This temporary blanket modification allows any rehabilitation professional (OT, PT, or SLP) to perform the initial and comprehensive assessment for all patients receiving therapy services as part of the plan of care, to the extent permitted under state law, regardless of whether or not the service establishes eligibility for the patient to be receiving home care. We would continue to expect HHAs to match the appropriate discipline that performs the assessment to the needs of the patient to the greatest extent possible. Therapists must act within their state scope of practice laws when performing initial and comprehensive assessments and access a registered nurse or other professional to complete sections of the assessment that are beyond their scope of practice. Expanding the category of therapists who may perform initial and comprehensive assessments provides HHAs with additional flexibility that may decrease patient wait times for the initiation of home health services.

  • Furnishing Dialysis Services on the Main Premises: (Revised since 4/30 Release)

    ESRD requirements at 42 CFR §494.180(d) require dialysis facilities to provide services directly on its main premises or on other premises that are contiguous with the main premises. CMS is waiving this requirement to allow dialysis facilities to provide service to its patients who reside in the nursing homes, long-term care facilities, assisted living facilities and similar types of facilities, as licensed by the state (if applicable).

  • Specific Life Safety Code (LSC) for Multiple Providers – Waiver Information: (New since 4/30 Release)

    Alcohol-based Hand-Rub (ABHR) Dispensers: We are waiving the prescriptive requirements for the placement of alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR) dispensers for use by staff and others due to the need for the increased use of ABHR in infection control. However, ABHRs contain ethyl alcohol, which is considered a flammable liquid, and there are restrictions on the storage and location of the containers. This includes restricting access by certain patient/resident population to prevent accidental ingestion. Due to the increased fire risk for bulk containers (over five gallons) those will still need to be stored in a protected hazardous materials area.

    Fire Drills: Due to the inadvisability of quarterly fire drills that move and mass staff together, we will instead permit a documented orientation training program related to the current fire plan, which considers current facility conditions. The training will instruct employees, including existing, new or temporary employees, on their current duties, life safety procedures and the fire protection devices in their assigned area.

    Temporary Construction: CMS is waiving requirements that would otherwise not permit temporary walls and barriers between patients.

Be sure to read the final pages of this document as there is an Attachment A as well as additional information and resources regarding COVID-19 waivers.