Federal Government To Begin Cracking Down on Short-Staffed Nursing Homes

The federal government announced this month that it will begin performing more surprise inspections at nursing homes in an effort to crack down on nursing homes with inadequate staffing. According to the government, these surprise inspections will be done on Saturdays and Sundays at nursing homes with records of insufficient nursing staff on the weekends. According to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), nursing staff levels are directly correlated with the quality of care received by the nursing home residents.

Over a decade after the federal government mandated CMS collect payroll data and publicize each nursing home’s results, the federal agency finally overhauled its information technology system and began publicizing the information this year. While staffing levels at nursing homes were previously determined by “spot-checking” during yearly inspections, the new method for calculating uses payroll data from the entire year. Consequentially, the new method employed by CMS provides a more accurate and complete picture of staff levels.

According to Kaiser Health News, which analyzed the data provided by the federal government, nursing homes routinely lacked sufficient nursing staff. Under current CMS regulations, each nursing home must have a registered nurse on duty for at least eight hours each day. According to Kaiser Health News, almost one-fourth of nursing homes did not have a registered nurse on staff for at least one day during the three-month period analyzed by the news agency. The problem was especially egregious on weekends with 11 percent fewer nurses and 8 percent fewer aides on staff. Considering less than 10 percent of health inspections occur on weekends, CMS has vowed to increase the number of inspections on Saturdays and Sundays.

“Today CMS is taking important steps to protect nursing home residents,” Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement outlining the federal government’s plans to increase enforcement efforts. “We’re deeply concerned about potential inadequacies in staffing, such as low weekend staffing levels or times when registered nurses are not onsite, and the impact that this can have on patient care.”

Nursing home industry groups blame the staffing shortage on a lack of nurses across the country and predict the federal government’s crackdown will not fix the problem. Speaking to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, David Gifford, Senior Vice President of the American Health Care Association, said “Rather than taking proactive steps to address the national workforce shortage [that] long-term care facilities are facing, CMS seems to be focusing on a punitive approach that will penalize providers and make it harder to hire staff to meet the shared goal of increased staffing.”

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