Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) have special audits – or, should I say, more robust audits.
We all know that in March 2020, both The Joint Commission (TJC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) pressed the pause button on audits, accreditation surveys, and health inspections due to COVID-19. Shortly thereafter, CMS inspections and rating updates were back in full swing, as of January 2021; TJC audits and surveys are even today proceeding more cautiously. According to a summer news release, TJC has resumed limited review activity, with strict COVID-19 safety standards.
Passing audits and inspections is crucial to maintaining your nursing home’s accreditation and Medicare-certified status so you can stay in business. Here’s what your HR department should know about SNF audits and ratings, and how you can help prepare for them.
SNF Audits and Quality Rating System
Together, CMS and TJC assess SNFs’ patient care, quality of service, and provider qualifications.
The TJC survey and auditing process is designed to evaluate accredited nursing care centers once every three years through unannounced visits and documentation reviews that include:
- Assessments of patient safety;
- Observations of services and provider or caregiver performance;
- On-site or virtual staff interviews;
- Physical survey of the facility; and
- Review of the facility’s ability to maintain updated practitioner documentation.
CMS tests nursing home quality levels using a five-star quality rating system, which is updated regularly on its facility comparison site, Nursing Home Compare. The site organizes nursing homes by rating and helps consumers their families and caregivers choose the right facility. This rating system gives each nursing home a score based on four major factors:
- Health inspections. This portion of the rating is a combination of the results from a facility’s three most recent health inspections and three most recent investigations due to complaints. Trained inspectors pay an on-site visit to test the nursing home’s ability to meet minimum quality requirements through a specific process.
- Staffing. This rating takes into account the average hours of registered nurse (RN) care per resident day, as well as total staffing hours, including RNs, licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and certified nurse assistants (CNAs), based on resident needs.
- Quality measures. This rating is based on 15 different physical and clinical measures used to test how well nursing homes are meeting resident needs.
- Retention. This rating measures the amount of turnover at a facility and rewards employers who retain employees for longer periods of time.
Time and Attendance
In 2019, CMS tightened its quality rating restrictions, reducing the number of days facilities could go without having an on-site nurse. This and other changes resulted in over one-third (37 percent) of SNFs losing one or more stars. It’s impossible to predict what other changes may come in the future, but needless to say, time and attendance will continue to be crucial.
Your facility may not be able to recruit enough new nurses to fill your roster completely, which is why prioritizing timeliness is an important part of maintaining your rating. Make it a point to reward staff who clock in and out on time and stay on top of missed days and late arrivals.
Focus on Retention
In July 2022, CMS announced that SNF staffing and turnover data would be used in assessing star ratings for facilities. As CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure stated, “Research and experience tell us that staffing levels and staff turnover can substantially affect the quality of care and health outcomes for people living in nursing homes.” My friend DeeDee Murphy is General Counsel for Principle Long Term Care, which owns hundreds of SNFs. Staff turnover is a huge problem, especially since COVID, according to her.
Retention has long been a practical concern for long-term care facilities, but now the issue is increasingly under the spotlight. Focus on your retention by offering creative and enticing benefits, such as flexible scheduling and flexible benefits. Also, focus on creating career opportunities for your employees, so they stay within the facility instead of seeking career growth elsewhere.
As an administrator, you’ll likely oversee many different types of audits. Here are some of the most common ones:
Resident Assessment Instrument (RAI)
The Resident Assessment Instrument is a comprehensive assessment tool used to evaluate the needs of nursing home residents. RAI audits focus on the accuracy and completeness of resident assessments, including the collection and documentation of information related to the resident’s physical, mental, and psychosocial health. These audits aim to ensure that residents’ care plans are individualized and based on accurate and up-to-date assessments.
Falls Risk Assessment
Falls are a significant concern in nursing homes, as they can lead to serious injuries and complications. Falls risk assessment audits evaluate the nursing home’s procedures for identifying residents at risk of falling and implementing appropriate interventions to prevent falls. These audits assess whether fall risk assessments are conducted regularly, documented properly, and used to develop personalized care plans to minimize the risk of falls.
Medication Management Audit
Medication management audits focus on the safe and effective administration of medications to nursing home residents. These audits assess whether medication orders are properly documented, medications are stored securely, and administration procedures follow established protocols. They also evaluate medication reconciliation processes, medication error reporting, and staff training related to medication management.
Infection Control Audit
Infection control audits are conducted to assess the nursing home’s adherence to infection prevention and control practices. These audits evaluate hand hygiene practices, proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning and disinfection procedures, and compliance with isolation precautions. The goal is to identify areas where infection control practices can be improved to minimize the risk of healthcare-associated infections among residents and staff.
Staffing audits focus on evaluating the nursing home’s staffing levels and skill mix to ensure adequate staffing for resident care needs. These audits assess compliance with staffing requirements set by regulatory agencies, review staff qualifications and training, and evaluate the nursing home’s processes for monitoring and maintaining appropriate staffing levels. The goal is to ensure that there are enough qualified staff members available to provide safe and quality care to residents.
As you help prepare your facility for potential audits and inspections, it’s also a good idea to take a closer look at your system for storing and submitting documentation. Your personnel records may be up-to-date, but are they as accessible as they could be?
Many HR departments still handle paperwork manually, with paper folders and filing cabinets rather than a centralized system. And while this may still work for some, it can get tricky if you’re juggling multiple review requests or multiple facilities. Digitizing files in a central location can help you avoid unnecessary compliance violations and simplify employee management. With access to all files at once, your facility can stay organized, prepare ahead of time, and have all the documentation you need at your fingertips, just in case.