Senior man in wheelchair at nursing home

The president’s State of the Union address adds a sense of urgency to this crisis in America’s healthcare system.

Coming off another week working inside the hospital walls in my case management world, I have another topic to discuss related to President Biden’s initiatives – specifically, Biden’s pledge to provide the country with better nursing homes. I am sure we all remember the horrific news of elderly residents dying of COVID during our first wave of the pandemic. By the end of 2021, approximately 200,000 long-term care residents and staff members had died of COVID, which equates to nearly a quarter of all our COVID deaths thus far.

The focus on quality ratings and educating our communities on post-acute services had started before COVID, when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began publicly reporting skilled nursing facilities’ (SNFs’) star ratings in late 2018. Then, in late 2019 came CMS’s ruling and updates for discharge planning requirements, to include quality measures or ratings as part of the patient choice process for post-acute placement. Under value-based arrangements, many hospitals and health systems started working in collaboratives across the continuum to elevate performance and help improve quality of care for their patients going to post-acute care. 

However, the level of mortality with COVID is requiring more muscle. The Biden Administration intends to conduct research this year regarding the minimum required staffing levels at nursing homes, and potentially roll out mandates for all facilities shortly thereafter.

CMS plans to require the phasing out of shared rooms, particularly addressing facilities that have three or more residents in a room. They are also planning to beef up their penalties, reporting requirements, and scrutiny of nursing homes, especially those that are owned by private equity firms. In fact, private equity firms that own poorly performing nursing homes could face significant penalties, including permanent legal implications.

The need to improve care for our elderly is dire. However, as we continue to face significant staffing shortages across hospital systems, I am unsure where the staff is going to come from for nursing homes. Patients often are sitting in hospitals waiting for days for a bed to open at a post-acute facility, because of limited staffing. With limited bed availability has also come an ample supply of patient referrals for top-choice facilities. The unintended consequence is that facilities can pick the best patients from the pile, which means that those who are more complex or underinsured sit in the hospital as unlikely candidates for placement.

Case managers are working with patients and families to send referrals out to outlying communities and across regions to see who is willing to accept a patient to free up a hospital bed. Often, the choices available for placement are not five-star facilities. Imagine the physician and case manager telling a family that they are ready to discharge a loved one to a two-star or one-star facility, because those are the only ones available that take their insurance and have a bed available. 

This is a conversation we have all too often. And thus, the patient and family naturally request to stay in the hospital, where they feel they will be safer and more cared for until another facility becomes available, or they can figure out how to go home and access home care services.

So today I ask, how many of you think that SNFs will be prepared to increase staffing ratios for patient care by the end of the year? For the results of the survey, click here.

Programming Note: Listen to Tiffany Ferguson’s live reports on SDoH Mondays on Monitor Mondays, 10 Eastern.

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