Kusserow on Compliance: Increased CMS Spotlight on Nursing Facilities

CMS and states visit nursing homes on a regular basis with “survey” or “inspection” teams to determine if the nursing homes are providing the quality of care that is required by Medicare and Medicaid, as well as to identify deficiencies in meeting CMS safety requirements. When deficiencies are identified, they must be corrected, and, if serious ones are not corrected, it may lead to termination from participation in Medicare and Medicaid.

Most facilities correct their problems within a reasonable period. However, some have significantly more problems that the norm with a pattern of serious problems persisting over three or more years. Although some facilities institute enough improvement that they are in substantial compliance on one survey, significant problems often resurface by the time of the next survey. Such facilities are referred to by CMS as a “yo-yo” or “in and out” compliance history. These facilities rarely address underlying systemic problems that are giving rise to repeated cycles of serious deficiencies. To address this problem CMS created the “Special Focus Facility” (SFF) initiative that is a listing of problematic nursing homes that have had a history of serious quality issues and are included in a special program to stimulate improvements in their quality of care.

Those on the SFF list are visited in person by survey teams twice as frequently as other nursing homes (about twice per year). The longer the problems persist, the more stringent the enforcement actions, including imposition of civil monetary penalties (“fines”) or termination from Medicare and Medicaid.  Within about 18 to 24 months after a facility is identified by CMS as an SFF nursing home, CMS expects: (1) improvement & graduation off the SFF; (2) termination from participation in Medicare/Medicaid programs; or (3) extension of time on SFF because of some progress or change of ownership. For more information check the CMS website that posts SFF Nursing Homes in five (5) categories:

  1. newly added to the SFF;
  2. failing to show significant improvement since being posted on the SFF;
  3. showing significant improvement by the most recent survey, and CMS is monitoring;
  4. graduating off the SFF because they not only improved, but they sustained significant improvement for about 12 months (through two standard surveys); and
  5. terminated by CMS from participation in Medicare and Medicaid within, or voluntarily chose not to continue such participation.

To assist in improving Nursing Home quality, CMS began rating all nursing homes using a Five-Star Quality Rating System that can be found at https://www.medicare.gov/NHCompare.


Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on Google+ or LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

Copyright © 2019 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.