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CMS Announces Changes to Nursing Home Compare in April 2019

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced updates coming next month to Nursing Home Compare and the Five-Star Quality Rating System to strengthen this tool for consumers to compare quality between nursing homes. The April 2019 changes to Nursing Home Compare include revisions to the inspection process, enhancement of new staffing information, and implementation of new quality measures.

This includes a lifting of the ‘freeze’ on the health inspection ratings instituted in February 2018. CMS ‘froze’ the health inspection star ratings category after implementing a new survey process for Long-Term Care facilities. Because facilities receive surveys at different times, some facilities would have been surveyed under the old process and others under the new process. Without placing a ‘freeze’ on health inspection star ratings, the facilities would have been scored using two different evaluation processes making the outcomes misaligned and the data inaccurate. CMS ‘froze’ the health inspection star rating score until all nursing homes were surveyed at least once under the new survey process for Long Term Care facilities. Ending the freeze is critical for consumers. In April, they will be able to see the most up to date status of a facility’s compliance, which is a very strong reflection of a facility’s ability to improve and protect each resident’s health and safety.

Additionally, CMS is setting higher thresholds and evidence-based standards for nursing homes’ staffing levels. Nurse staffing has the greatest impact on the quality of care nursing homes deliver, which is why CMS analyzed the relationship between staffing levels and outcomes. CMS found that as staffing levels increase, quality increases and is therefore assigning an automatic one-star rating when a Nursing Home facility reports “no registered nurse is onsite.” Currently, facilities that report seven or more days in a quarter with no registered nurse onsite are automatically assigned a one-star staffing rating. In April 2019, the threshold for the number of days without an RN onsite in a quarter that triggers an automatic downgrade to one-star will be reduced from seven days to four days. CMS is also making changes to the quality component on Nursing Home Compare that would improve identifying differences in quality among nursing homes, raise expectations for quality, and incentivize continuous quality improvement.

The April 2019 Nursing Home Compare Update includes adding measures of long-stay hospitalizations and emergency room transfers, and removing duplicative and less meaningful measures. CMS is also establishing separate quality ratings for short-stay and long-stay residents and revising the rating thresholds to better identify the differences in quality among nursing homes making it easier for consumers to find the right information needed to make decisions.

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