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CMS Issues Updated Reopening Recommendations

The guidance aims to ensure elective surgeries continue to resume safely

Published: June 16, 2020

PERSONAL TOUCH PERSONAL TOUCH CMS is nudging patients back to healthcare facilities with its new guide.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued new recommendations for the expanded reopening of surgical facilities in states and regions with no evidence of a rebound in COVID-19 cases and positive tests.

CMS still calls for optimization of telehealth services when available and appropriate, and continued sheltering-in-place for individuals at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness unless their conditions warrant in-person attention. However, it recommends that in-person "non-emergent, non-COVID care" should be provided as clinically appropriate in facilities with the necessary resources.

The Phase II recommendations detail facility considerations, patient and staff testing, PPE and supply issues, workforce availability and sanitation protocols. For example, surgical facilities should:

  • Establish non-COVID care zones. Before entering these areas, patients, physicians, clinical team members and support staff must be screened for symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Provide proper PPE. Physicians and staff must wear surgical masks at all times. During procedures with a higher risk of aerosol transmission, clinical team members should wear N95 masks and face shields. Patients must wear surgical masks or cloth face coverings throughout their stay.
  • Maintain social distancing. Efforts should be made to minimize the time patients spend in waiting areas, chairs must be spaced at least six feet apart and patient volumes should remain low. Visitors are still prohibited. If they are necessary for an aspect of patient care, they should be pre-screened in the same way as patients.
  • Focus on surface cleaning. Staffs must thoroughly clean and disinfect clinical spaces and common areas. They must ensure equipment and surfaces are decontaminated in accordance with CDC guidelines.

As surgical facilities reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many patients still need convincing that it's safe to schedule or reschedule their operations. To bolster that considerable educational and marketing effort for surgery centers and other healthcare facilities, CMS also released a guide for patients and beneficiaries regarding the new realities of non-emergent in-person care.

"CMS is providing these recommendations to ensure non-emergency health care resumes safely and that patients are receiving needed in-person treatment that may have been postponed due to the public health emergency," states the agency.

"While telehealth has proven to be a lifeline, nothing can absolutely replace the gold standard of in-person care," says CMS Administrator Seema Verma. "Those needing operations, vaccinations, procedures, preventive care or evaluation for chronic conditions should feel confident seeking care when recommended by their provider."

Joe Paone

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