Medicare announced Tuesday that families and patients have a new online tool to compare COVID-19 vaccination rates in nursing homes, responding to complaints from consumer groups and lawmakers that critical data was too difficult to find.
The information is now available through the Health Care Comparison feature on Medicare.gov, an online basic research tool for quality and safety in nursing homes. Consumers will be able to compare up to three nursing homes at the same time, and the web page shows residents and staff vaccination rates, as well as national and state averages.
“We want to give people a new tool to visualize this data to help them make informed decisions,” said the head of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Chiquita Brooks-LaSour.
Nursing home residents make up a tiny fraction of the US population, but they bear the heavy burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, which accounts for more than 150,000 deaths, or about 1 in 5. Nationally, about 84% of residents are currently vaccinated. which slowed down – but did not completely prevent – the spread of the delta variant among debilitated patients.
Nursing home staff are of great concern as only about 64% are vaccinated, which is roughly equal to the proportion of the adult population. The virus usually enters institutions through employees who have been infected in neighboring communities and unwittingly transmit the infection to residents.
Medicare has been publishing vaccination information online for several months now, but on a site dedicated to researchers and industry. One way to navigate was to access a huge spreadsheet. Another approach was to search the map for small red dots that represented nursing homes.
Statistics show large differences in vaccination rates between states, and sometimes large differences between states and communities.
Organizations that filed a complaint included the Consumer Voice, which advocates for improved quality of long-term care, and the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a monitoring group.
Their fears were echoed by two senior Democratic MPs, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Citing an Associated Press report on new infections among nursing home residents, the two lawmakers urged Medicare to act quickly. Weeden chairs the Finance Committee, which oversees Medicare and Medicaid, while Casey chairs the Aging Committee.
A new online tool reminds consumers comparing institutions that a higher percentage of vaccinated residents and staff are “better.” Information on COVID-19 vaccination rates is available just below the ranking of each nursing home. This data reflects the latest reports from nursing homes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Medicare officials say they are encouraged that while the delta option has swept across the country, outbreaks in nursing homes have not spiraled out of control as they did last year. They attribute this to a large number of residents who were vaccinated. Nursing home residents are expected to be the first to prioritize revaccinations as they become available.
The nursing home industry says it fully supports vaccination of employees and residents, but Medicare must also publish vaccine levels for hospitals and other healthcare facilities.