COVID-19 has devastated nursing homes across the U.S., with more than 186,000 residents and staff killed by the virus in the past year and a half. Yet despite the ready availability of the coronavirus vaccine, more than 15% of nursing home residents and more than 30% of staff across the country remained unvaccinated at the end of last month.
Now, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has designed a tool to help families view and compare up-to-date vaccination rates at nursing homes.
“As we continue to work with our partners to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and keep nursing home residents safe, we want to give people a new tool to visualize this data to help them make informed decisions,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in the release on Tuesday.
Families can find the tool on the Medicare.gov site. There, they can search for nursing home providers in a specific area. Then, they can either view vaccination data for a specific facility or click “Compare” to view side-by-side reports of vaccination rates at multiple nursing homes. They’ll have to scroll down past an overview of the facilities in order to find the vaccination rates.
CMS already had that data available on the site — Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes have been reporting the data since May — but the new tool makes accessing the information simpler.
With a population that’s particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, common sense would suggest nursing homes would mandate vaccinations for both residents and staff, but that’s not entirely the case yet. Last month, President Biden announced his administration will require all nursing home staff to be vaccinated. He tasked CMS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with writing a rule that’s expected to be revealed soon, according to the Associated Press.
In the meantime, a significant percentage of the nation’s nursing home employees are unvaccinated.
AARP has been closely tracking the issue on its public policy institute’s AARP Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard and recently noted a troubling trend at nursing homes. COVID-19 cases and deaths in August were “roughly six times as high as they were in the four weeks ending mid-July,” the organization noted last week.
Unvaccinated nursing home residents now face the same risk as they did a year ago, Nancy A. LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer said in the release.
Both AARP and CMS urged nursing home staff and residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible, adding that the vaccine is safe and effective, as well as free.