CMS Moves to Strengthen Nursing Home Safety and Clarity of Consumer Info

Published in RINewsToday on January 23, 2023

To improve transparency of nursing home consumer information, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), will now post Care Compare citations that are under dispute by nursing homes on its website.  CMS will also take steps to protect nursing home residents from being inappropriately diagnosed with schizophrenia which oftentimes leads to improper use of anti-psychotic medications to sedate and chemically restrain residents.

“We have made significant progress in decreasing the inappropriate use of antipsychotic medications in nursing homes, but more needs to be done,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, announcing the new guidance this week. “People in nursing homes deserve safe, high-quality care, and we are redoubling our oversight efforts to make sure that facilities are not prescribing unnecessary medications,” she says.

CMS’s actions advance President Biden’s goal of reinforcing safeguards against unnecessary medication use and treatments that was outlined in his State of the Union address to create an Action Plan for “Protecting Seniors by Improving Safety and Quality of Care in the Nation’s Nursing Homes.”

Tackling the inappropriate drugging of Nursing Home residents

Beginning this month, CMS will conduct targeted, off-site audits of nursing homes to determine whether facilities are accurately assessing and coding individuals with a schizophrenia diagnosis. Nursing home residents erroneously diagnosed with schizophrenia are at risk of receiving poor care and being prescribed inappropriate anti-psychotic medications. Anti-psychotic medications are especially dangerous to these residents due to their potential devastating side effects, including death.

According to the Washington, DC-based National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, in 2008, CMS first introduced a quality measure in its Care Compare rating system that calculates the percentage of long-stay residents (over 100 days) that were receiving anti-psychotic medications. This quality measure was initially introduced to address the practice of some nursing homes of illegally using anti-psychotic medications to sedate residents with dementia or other increased patient care needs, rather than providing appropriate hands-on care interventions.

The measure, excluding residents with certain diagnoses, including schizophrenia, Huntington’s disease, and Tourette’s syndrome, resulted in some nursing homes improperly diagnosing residents with schizophrenia, observed the Consumer Voice, a national organization representing consumers in issues related to long-term care, helping to ensure consumers are empowered to advocate for themselves.      

CMS’s new guidance acknowledges that there has been a steady rise in schizophrenia diagnoses since the quality measure was first introduced, charges the Consumer Voice, noting that it comes on the heels of a report issued by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (OIG) which found that from 2015-2019 there was a 194% increase in the number of residents diagnosed with schizophrenia who did not have that diagnosis prior to admission to the nursing home.

“It is important to note that it is extremely rare for schizophrenia to suddenly occur in older people,” says the Consumer Voice, stating that the onset of schizophrenia generally occurs in someone’s late teens through their twenties.

CMS announced that it will begin to conduct audits of nursing homes with high rates of schizophrenia diagnoses and “examine the facility’s evidence for appropriately documenting, assessing, and coding a diagnosis of schizophrenia.” Facilities that have “inaccuracies” will have their Five-Star Quality Measure Rating adjusted. CMS will downgrade the facility’s Quality Measure ratings to one star, which would drop their Overall Star Rating as well. CMS will monitor each facility’s data to determine whether they have addressed the identified issues. After that, CMS will decide whether any downgrades should be reversed.

While Consumer Voice has expressed significant concern with the accuracy of CMS’s Quality Measure, it supports these actions. The Quality Measure rating often inflates a facility’s overall 5-Star rating on Care Compare. This action will help incentivize compliance and make sure the public is aware of these illegal practices in nursing homes, says the consumer advocacy group.

Increased transparency

Separately, CMS announced it plans to take a new step to increase the transparency of nursing home information provided to consumers by publicly displaying survey citations that facilities are disputing. Currently, when a facility disputes a survey deficiency, that deficiency is not posted to Care Compare until the dispute process is complete. This process usually takes approximately 60 days; however, some cases can take longer. 

Although the number of actual deficiencies under dispute is relatively small, they can include severe instances of non-compliance such as Immediate Jeopardy (IJ) citations. This level of citation occurs when the health and safety of residents could be at risk for serious injury, serious harm, serious impairment, or death. Displaying this information while it is under dispute can help consumers make more informed choices when it comes to evaluating and choosing a facility. This new information will begin appearing on Care Compare on January 25th. While citations will be publicly displayed, they will not be included in the Five-Star Quality Rating calculation until the dispute is complete. 

“We support anything that CMS can reasonably do to improve the health and safety of seniors in long-term care, especially those with cognitive impairment. When it comes to the nursing home industry’s concerns about new CMS rules, we think it’s best to err on the side of transparency. Seniors and their families need as much information as possible to make informed decisions about long-term care,” says a spokesperson for the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, an advocacy group whose mission is to protect Social Security and Medicare.

Local reaction:  “You cannot un-ring a bell”

RI Health Care Association

“We fully support improving nursing home transparency, safety and quality, and accountability regarding our members’ service to the residents and patients entrusted to their care,” says John E. Gage, President and CEO of Rhode Island’s Health Care Association, representing 64 of the 80 nursing facilities in the state. “Eliminating any inappropriate use of psychotropic medications and ensuring the highest quality of care is a shared focus of both CMS and RIHCA,” notes Gage.

“We strongly disagree with CMS’ decision to post of deficiencies that are in the process of being disputed through established CMS policies, regardless of their scope and severity, says Gage. “Posting deficiencies that, in many instances, are incorrect, inaccurately cited or cited at an inappropriate level of scope and severity, during an approved appeals process is unfair and could damage a facility’s reputation unfairly,” he adds.

According to Gage, doing this is akin to convicting someone before their full trial, (prosecution and defense alike) before the verdict is announced. “You cannot “un-ring a bell,” he says.

“As mentioned by CMS, we are just talking about a relatively small number of deficiencies,” states Gage. Rather than potentially posting erroneous deficiencies, he calls on CMS to speed up the process of conducting Informal Dispute Resolutions (IDRs) or Independent Dispute Resolutions (IIDRs) to no more than forty-five (45) days to ensure that accurate information is posted timely. IDRs and IIDRs are two different options from CMS that nursing homes can choose to appeal of cited deficiencies.

“As to the changes to the public reporting and the Five-Star Quality Rating System, we are disappointed that the Biden Administration and CMS have apparently made this determination administratively, without any comment period to allow for an opportunity for nursing homes and the public to provide feedback,” says Gage.

LeadingAge RI

“I appreciate CMS’s goal of increasing oversight of unnecessary antipsychotic medication use, although it should be noted that there has been a National Partnership to reduce the unnecessary use of antipsychotic drugs for years, so the industry has been very engaged in these efforts already,” notes James Nyberg, Executive Director of LeadingAge RI, a not-for-profit membership organization comprised of not-for-profit providers of aging services. 

Nyberg expresses concern about CMS posting deficiencies that are under dispute publicly. “That is taking a guilty before proven innocent approach, which is unfair and detrimental to providers. There is an existing process to resolve disputes over deficiencies, and this seems to short-circuit it, especially when deficiencies can be/and are overturned during the process.  One more blow to a beleaguered industry,” he says.

Long-Term Care Ombudsman

“The inappropriate use of antipsychotic medications in nursing homes has been an on ongoing issue for many years,” observes Kathleen Heren, Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman. “It takes a skilled practitioner who gives a battery of tests to diagnose someone with schizophrenia. This shouldn’t be determined by a hospital intern who spends 20 minutes with an agitated resident in a hospital emergency room,” she says.

According to Heren, schizophrenia has an early onset [about 4% of schizophrenia arise before the age of 15, and about 1% before the age of 10].  A 78-year -old resident does not become schizophrenic all of a sudden because he or she is agitated. “I can say that I have not seen many deficiencies given to Rhode Island nursing homes for overusing anti-psychotic medications,” she says, because of the efforts of  Health Care Centrics, Rhode Island’s Quality Assurance organization, that has provided in-depth staff training on the use of these drugs. The surveyors from the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDoH) are very quick to cite facilities for not following guidelines in the inappropriate use of these drugs.

Heren says that there have been cases where RIDOH has rescinded a deficiency based on the input received by the survey team during the Informal Dispute Resolution process. “There are some facilities that are continually receiving deficiencies and that families should be able to see why a deficiency was given and a facilities response as to why it was considered unfair,” she says.

CMS Actions promote quality of care

RI Department of Health

“At the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDoH), one of our major focus areas is monitoring and ensuring that nursing homes and other healthcare facilities provide the highest quality of care and services in a clean and safe environment, says Joseph Wendelken, RIDoH’s Public Information Officer. 

“We will continue to do everything we can to protect patients and residents, which includes following any new CMS protocols and partnering with CMS on new initiatives,” Wendelken says. 

Senior Agenda Coalition of RI

Adds Maureen Maigret, Policy Advisor for the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI, “Rhode Island nursing homes have generally provided good quality of care over the years,” acknowledging that improvements can always be made. “Both of these changes are intended to promote better quality care,” she says. “If people are erroneously coded as having schizophrenia, they may be subject to poorer care and harmed by being prescribed inappropriate medication. Posting inspection citations under dispute on Nursing Home Compare with a notation they are under dispute is important in that resolution of the dispute could take 60 days or longer and in the meantime the public remains unaware of what could be significant deficiencies which could impact their decisions,” states Maigret says.

The QSO memo — Updates to the Nursing Home Care Compare website and Five-Star Quality Rating System: Adjusting Quality Measure Ratings Based on Erroneous Schizophrenia Coding, and Posting Citations Under Dispute — is available here for review:

https://www.cms.gov/medicare/provider-enrollment-and-certification/surveycertificationgeninfo/policy-and-memos-states/updates-nursing-home-care-compare-website-and-five-star-quality-rating-system-adjusting-quality

Time to resolve RI’s ongoing Nursing Home staffing crisis

Published in RINewsToday on April 18, 2021

The latest release of AARP’s Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard shows that both cases and deaths in nursing homes declined in the four weeks ending March 21. Although these rates are improving, chronic staffing problems in nursing homes—revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic—continue. In Rhode Island, 30% of nursing homes reported a shortage of nurses or aides, which is only fractionally better than the previous reporting period. 

AARP has come out swinging to fight for enhancing the quality of care in Rhode Island’s 104 nursing homes.

AARP Rhode Island, representing 131 members, calls for the General Assembly to ensure the quality of care for the state’s nursing home through minimum staffing standards, oversight, and access to in-person formal advocates, called long-term care Ombudsmen. The state’s the largest aging advocacy group has urged lawmakers to create a state task force on nursing home quality and safety and has pushed for rejecting immunity and holding facilities accountable when they fail to provide adequate care to residents.  It’s also crucial that Rhode Island ensures that increases in nursing homes’ reimbursement rates are spent on staff pay and to improve protections for residents, says AARP Rhode Island. 

Last December, AARP Rhode Island called on Governor Gina Raimondo to scrap Executive Order 20-21 and its subsequent reauthorizations to grant civil immunity related to COVID-19 for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The aging advocacy group warned that these facilities should be held responsible for providing the level of quality care that is required of them for which they are being compensated.

Rhode Island Lawmakers Attack Nursing Home Staffing Crisis

During the legislative session, the state’s nursing home staffing crisis caught the eye of Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin is a policy issue that needs to be addressed. They knew that Rhode Island ranked 41st in the nation in the number of the average hours of care nursing home residents receive, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  The state also has the lowest average resident-care hours per day of any New England state.

On Feb. 2, the Rode Island Senate approved S 0002, “Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act” sponsored by Goodwin and nine Democratic cosponsors to address an ongoing crisis in staffing nursing homes that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The bill had passed unanimously in the Health and Human Services Committee, and ultimately, the full Senate gave its thumbs up to the legislative proposal by a vote of 34 to 4.  Only one Republican senator crossed the aisle and voted with the Democratic senators.

“There is a resident care crisis in our state. Staffing shortages and low wages lead to seniors and people with disabilities not receiving the care they desperately need. The pandemic, of course, has exponentially increased the demands of the job and exacerbated patients’ needs. We must confront this problem head-on before our nursing home system collapses,” said Sponsor Senator Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence).

The legislation would establish a minimum standard of 4.1 hours of resident care per day, the federal recommendation for quality care long endorsed by health care experts including the American Nurses Association, the Coalition of Geriatric Nursing Organizations, and the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care. The bill, which the Senate also approved last year, has been backed by Raise the Bar on Resident Care, a coalition of advocates for patient care, and the Rhode Island’s Department of Health (RIDOH).

The bill would also secure funding to raise wages for caregivers to recruit and retain a stable and qualified workforce. Short staffing drives high turnover in nursing homes. Not only does high turnover create undue stress and burnout for remaining staff, but it also diverts valuable resources to recruit, orient, and train new employees and increases reliance on overtime and agency staff.  Low wages are a significant driver of the staffing crisis. The median wage for a CNA in Rhode Island is less than $15, and $1/hour lower than the median wage in both Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The legislation would also invest in needed training and skills enhancement for caregivers to provide care for patients with increasing acuity and complex health care needs.

At press time, the companion bill (2021-H-5012), sponsored by Reps. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist.10, Providence) and William W. O’Brien (D-Dist. 54) was considered by House Finance Committee and recommended for further study.

RIDOH’s Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH says the state agency “supports the thoughtfulness of the provisions included in the legislation and welcomes dialogue with its sponsors, advocates, and the nursing home facility industry regarding methods to sustain the necessary conditions associated with the intent of the bill.”

Alexander-Scott states that “RIDOH takes its charge seriously to keep nursing home residents and is supportive of efforts to update standards of care to better serve Rhode Islanders in nursing facilities, as well as increase resident and staff satisfaction within nursing facilities.”

Scott Fraser, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Care Association (RIHCA), a nonprofit group representing 80 percent of Rhode Island’s nursing homes, says that “staffing shortages are directly traceable to the chronic lack of Medicaid funding from past governors. Period.” 

According to Fraser, state law requires Medicaid to be funded at a national inflation index, usually averaging around 3%. “Up until this year, previous governors have slashed this amount resulting in millions of dollars in losses to our homes.  Thankfully, Governor McKee is proposing to fully fund the Medicaid Inflation Index this year,” he says.

RIHCA opposes the mandatory minimum staffing the legislation now being considered by the Rhode Island General Assembly, says Fraser, warning that its passage would result in facilities closing throughout the state. “No other state has adopted such a high standard,” he says, noting that the Washington, DC-based American Health Care Association estimates that this legislation would cost Rhode Island facilities at least $75 million to meet this standard and the need to hire more than 800 employees. 

Fraser calls for the “Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act” to be defeated, noting that the legislation does not contain any provisions for funding.  “Medically, there is no proof that mandating a certain number of hours of direct care results in any better health outcomes.  This is an unfunded legislative mandate. If homes are forced to close, not only would residents be forced to find a new place for their care, but hundreds of workers would also be forced out of work,” he says.

Goodwin does not believe that mandating minimum staffing requirements in nursing homes will force nursing homes to close. She noted that the legislation is aimed at ensuring nursing home residents receive adequate care and that Rhode Island is the only state in the northeast without such a standard.

“There is an un-level playing field in nursing home staffing in Rhode Island,” charges Goodwin, noting that many facilities staff 4.1 hours per day, or close to it, while others only provide two hours of care per day. “In either case, the overwhelming majority of well-staffed and poorly-staffed nursing homes remain highly profitable,” she says. 

According to Goodwin, the lack of staffing and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) is due to unreasonable workloads and low pay. “RIDOH’s CAN registry makes it clear that retention of these workers is a big issue. This is in part because they can make as much money – or more – in a minimum wage profession with much less stress,” she adds, stressing that “The Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act” directly addresses these staffing challenges.

One quick policy fix is to provide nursing home operators with adequate Medicaid reimbursement to pay for increased staffing.  Lawmakers must keep McKee’s proposed increase of nursing home rates pursuant to statute, requiring a market-based increase on Oct. 2021, in the state’s FY 2020 budget. The cost is estimated to be $9.6 million.

With the House panel recommending that Slater’s companion measure ((2021-H-5012) to be held for further study, Goodwin’s chances of seeing her legislation becoming law dwindles as the Rhode Island Assembly’s summer adjournment begins to loom ever closer. There’s probably no reason to insist that a bill be passed in order to have a study commission, so this could be appointed right away if there is serious intent to solve this problem.

Slater’s legislation may well be resurrected in the final days of the Rhode Island General Assembly, behind the closed doors when “horse-trading” takes place between House and Senate leadership.  If this doesn’t occur, either the House or Senate might consider creating a Task Force, bringing together nursing home operators, health care professionals and staff officials, to resolve the state’s nursing home staffing crisis. 

AARP Rhode Island Shows RI Facilities Remain Hotbed for COVID-19

Published in RINewsToday on February 14, 2021

As the Rhode Island Health Department (RIDOH) announces that cases of COVID-19 are declining and is loosening up restrictions on the reopening of bars and our social gatherings, AARP Rhode Island warns that the state’s nursing homes remain a hotbed for COVID-19 infections, and the “death rate remains disturbing.”  Rhode Island’s largest aging advocacy group calls on the General Assembly to take action this session to enact legislation to protect facility staff and residents. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 162,000 residents and staff in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have died nationwide, and nearly 1.3 million people are known to have been infected with coronavirus in these facilities. Rhode Island has recorded 1,430 deaths in skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other eldercare facilities.
On Feb. 11, AARP Rhode Island released its Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard, the data revealing that the COVID-19 pandemic crisis in these facilities still continues despite incremental improvements in all four dashboard categories.

The dashboard analyzes federally reported data in four-week periods going back to June 1, 2020. Using this data, the AARP Public Policy Institute, in collaboration with the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio, created the dashboard to provide snapshots of the virus’ infiltration into nursing homes and impact on nursing home residents and staff, with the goal of identifying specific areas of concern at the national and state levels in a timely manner.

Taking a Snapshot 

According to the data (Dec. 21 to Jan. 17) from AARP Rhode Island’s latest Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard, the rate of new coronavirus cases per 100 residents declined from 15.7 to 10.6 among residents and from 12.5 to 10.6 among staff. While cases are lower than in the previous time period, resident cases remain the second highest in New England in AARP’s dashboard analysis, with nearly four times the cases in Rhode Island nursing homes reported in October and November.

Meanwhile, the latest dashboard data indicated that resident death rates dropped from 2.60 to 1.82 for every 100 people living in a nursing home and that nursing home staff cases dropped from 12.5 per 100 workers to 10.6.The dashboard also reveals that PPE shortages dropped sharply. Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) have declined from 20.3 percent of nursing homes without a one-week supply to 4.3 percent — the lowest number since the first dashboard report in June, 2020. Staff shortages were relatively steady, dropping from 41.9 percent of facilities reporting shortages to 40 percent.

AARP Rhode Island calls on Governor Gina Raimondo and Lt. Governor Dan McKee to protect nursing home residents and staff from COVID-19. “We are approaching the one-year anniversary of the first known coronavirus cases in nursing homes, yet they remain appallingly high, said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell in a statement announcing the release of the latest dash data said, “The devastation this pandemic has brought to nursing home residents and their families has exposed fundamental reforms that must be made in nursing homes and to the long-term care system. We cannot lower our guard, she says.

AARP Rhode Island’s COVID-19 Legislative Agenda

The Rhode Island nursing home industry has struggled with quality care and infection control for years. Connell called for Rhode Island lawmakers to act immediately, focusing this year on: 

1.   Enacting or making permanent the components of AARP’s five-point plan:·         

— Prioritizing regular and ongoing testing and adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for residents and staff—as well as for inspectors and any visitors.·  

—  Improving transparency focused on daily, public reporting of cases and deaths in facilities; communication with families about discharges and transfers; and accountability for state and federal funding that goes to facilities.·         

— Ensuring access to in-person visitation following federal and state guidelines for safety, and require continued access to virtual visitation for all residents.·        

—  Ensuring quality care for residents through adequate staffing, oversight, and access to in-person formal advocates, called long-term care Ombudsmen.

2.      Reject immunity and hold long-term care facilities accountable when they fail to provide adequate care to residents.

3.      Establishing minimum nursing staffing standards.

4.      Ensuring that increases in facility’s reimbursement rates are spent on staff pay and to improve protections for residents.

5.      Ensuring progress is made so that in-person visitation can safely occur and facilitating virtual visitation.

“Additionally, our leaders must reject policies that take away the rights of residents to hold nursing homes accountable when they fail to provide adequate care, Connell added. “Now is not the time to let nursing homes off the hook for abuse, neglect, and even death.”  AARP Rhode Island wrote a letter to Gov. Raimondo, urging her to withdraw her nursing home immunity Executive Order.  At press time, there has been no reply.

As the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, RIDOH notes that 64 percent of all deaths have women and men in Rhode Island’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities. In the past 13 days, 116 new cases in these facilities have been diagnosed – with 41 new deaths. At weekly updates from Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, it used to be that the death statistics were broken down by age, noting how many were lost “in their 60s, in their 70s”, etc. but notably this no longer is reason for pause and expression on condolence.

Unless Rhode Island lawmakers act quickly, older Rhode Islanders in these facilities will continue to be at a very high-risk of catching COVID-19 and the fatality death rate will remain disproportionately high for seniors. As residents receive their vaccine shots, first and second, we in turn hope that the refusal rate of staff to the vaccination is going down.

It’s time to act. 

The full Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard is available at  www.aarp.org/nursinghomedashboard.  

For more information on how COVID is impacting nursing homes and AARP’s advocacy on this issue, visit www.aarp.org/nursinghomes.