Long-Term Care, Residential Facilities, And COVID-19: An Overview Of Federal And State Policy Responses

Abstract [from journal]

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected residents and staff at long-term care (LTC) and other residential facilities in the United States. The high morbidity and mortality at these facilities has been attributed to a combination of a particularly vulnerable population and a lack of resources to mitigate the risk. During the first wave of the pandemic, the federal and state governments received urgent calls for help from LTC and residential care facilities; between March and early June of 2020, policymakers responded with dozens of regulatory and policy changes. In this article, we provide an overview of these responses by first summarizing federal regulatory changes and then reviewing state-level executive orders. The policy and regulatory changes implemented at the federal and state levels can be categorized into the following 4 classes: (1) preventing virus transmission, which includes policies relating to visitation restrictions, personal protective equipment guidance, and testing requirements; (2) expanding facilities' capacities, which includes both the expansion of physical space for isolation purposes and the expansion of workforce to combat COVID-19; (3) relaxing administrative requirements, which includes measures enacted to shift the attention of caretakers and administrators from administrative requirements to residents' care; and (4) reporting COVID-19 data, which includes the reporting of cases and deaths to residents, families, and administrative bodies (such as state health departments). These policies represent a snapshot of the initial efforts to mitigate damage inflicted by the pandemic. Looking ahead, empirical evaluation of the consequences of these policies-including potential unintended effects-is urgently needed. The recent availability of publicly reported COVID-19 LTC data can be used to inform the development of evidence-based regulations, though there are concerns of reporting inaccuracies. Importantly, these data should also be used to systematically identify hot spots and help direct resources to struggling facilities.