Nursing home testing data questions resolved

Healthcare professional Kenzie Anderson grabs a test tube for a sample at United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 testing site Friday, June 26, 2020, in Houston. The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the state. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said that the state is facing a "massive outbreak" in the coronavirus pandemic and that some new local restrictions may be needed to protect hospital space for new patients. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (David J. Phillip, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State versus federal? Which data set nursing homes should rely on as a benchmark for coronavirus testing has been a pressing question for Florida facilities the past several weeks as they begin using rapid testing kits provided by the federal government.

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew gave Florida long-term care officials the answer Thursday, when she said that after negotiations with the federal government, nursing homes should rely on state data.

Federal rules require nursing homes to conduct tests based on weekly coronavirus infection levels in the counties where they are located.

Under a Sept. 2 interim federal rule, nursing homes in counties with positivity rates greater than 10% are required to test staff members twice a week; facilities located in counties with positivity rates between 5% and 10% are required to test weekly; and facilities located in counties with lower than 5% positivity rates are required to test monthly.

According to federal data, 12 counties with weekly positivity rates of greater than 10% would be required to test staff at least twice a week: Baker, Bradford, Dixie, Gadsden Gulf, Hamiton, Hardee, Lafayette, Leon, Liberty, Madison and Union.

“We have learned now based on conversations that we have had with the (federal) Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that nursing homes can use the state data,” Mayhew said. “We will work with CMS to get written documentation that the state data can be used and that the state data will be used, that this is not an issue of, you can pick which county data you want to use, either federal or state. This will be communicated from AHCA that all nursing homes will be expected to use the state data regarding county positivity rates.”

There are differences in how state and federal data is compiled, based, in part, on what types of tests are used.