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Report raises new nursing home health and safety concerns

U.S. Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey recently released their findings on the Special Focus Facility program that monitors nursing home quality and safety deficiencies.

The senators’ report cites concerns about information that is not part of the program but nonetheless deserves inclusion. The omission emphasizes the difficulty in choosing a good nursing home for a loved one.

About the SFF program

The Special Focus Facility program from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, can only address issues at 88 nursing homes at one time. When one facility clears up the deficiencies the government has flagged and “graduates” from the program, another facility can come aboard. However, there are 400 other nursing home candidates with serious health and safety problems that are not included in the program. The nursing homes already under scrutiny in the SFF program are listed on the CMS “Nursing Home Compare” website, but the other 400 candidates for inclusion are not identified. This means families that consult the site searching for a facility for a loved one do not have sufficient facts to make an informed decision.

Insufficient budget, fewer openings

Government budget cuts dating to 2014 limited participation in the SFF program to the 88 slots. The process for one facility to pass the necessary inspections and for a new facility to enter the program may take years.

What to look for

The nursing homes listed on the CMS website have star ratings. For families in search of a good nursing home, the key is a staff rating of four or five stars. The nurse in charge at a facility should have responsibility for no more than 18 patients, and a CNA should care for no more than seven per shift. In addition to star ratings on the Nursing Home Compare site, families can look at Yelp reviews for any nursing home that interests them. The best course of action, however, is to make a personal visit to a facility, speak with the staff and observe how they care for their patients.

About transparency

Senators Toomey and Casey have released the list of SFF program candidates to the public. Consequently, CMS said they would publish the list on their website. However, they offered no timeframe for doing so.

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