In a recent news release, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced revisions to the Special Focus Facility Program (SFFP), which addresses poor nursing home performance, that will have the effect of increased scrutiny of these troubled facilities. According to CMS, nursing homes that consistently perform poorly in comparison to their peers will be required to comply with stricter standards and demonstrate systemic quality improvements in order to avoid enforcement actions, including exclusion from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
The increased scrutiny stems from the Biden Administration’s recently announced plan for reforms to nursing home conditions and complicated ownership structures that HHS contends impede oversight of skilled nursing facilities. The focus of the reforms is to increase nursing home quality and safety by requiring minimum staffing levels, enhanced infection control measures, and oversight of nursing homes owned by for-profit companies, among other policies. There are currently 88 nursing homes with persistent records of noncompliance participating in the SFFP in 2022, representing about 0.5% of all nursing homes. In order to complete the program, nursing homes must pass two consecutive inspections that occur approximately every six months. Under the revised program, nursing homes will not be allowed to exit the program if inspections reveal more than a certain number of deficiencies, or if facilities have not significantly improved.
CMS recommends that skilled nursing facilities work with quality improvement organizations and external consultants to implement evidence-based interventions and make meaningful changes to staffing and leadership. State Survey Agencies are also advised to take nursing homes’ staffing levels into consideration, in addition to their compliance histories, when selecting candidates for the SFFP. If nursing homes demonstrate continued noncompliance with the quality rules or fail to demonstrate efforts to improve, CMS has indicated that it will impose severe enforcement sanctions, such as discretionary denials of payment for new admissions, civil monetary penalties, or directed plans of correction. Importantly, any facilities cited for “immediate jeopardy” deficiencies in two surveys while participating in the SFFP may be terminated from the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Lastly, CMS is extending the monitoring period for possible enforcement actions against nursing homes that have successfully completed the SFFP if their performances decline after they are no longer subject to the extra oversight. Nursing homes participating in the SFFP should be aware of the heightened scrutiny that they will be subject to and take actions to ensure compliance with the quality standards, staffing requirements, and other key focus areas under the revised program.