Troubled Mont. nursing home illustrates special federal status

Reporters looking to implement the tricks they picked up at AHCJ 2011 or one of our workshops can look to Billings (Mont.) Gazette reporter Cindy Uken, whose story about a dangerously deficient local nursing home was carried by inspection reports and her understanding of federal programs and regulation.

The program in question, known as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Special Focus Facility Initiative, has singled out 49 of the nation’s 16,100 nursing homes based on what it calls “a history of serious quality issues.” In the case of the Montana nursing home, these problems included serious bed sore issues, possible abuse and a failure to get to the bottom of patient injuries of “unknown origin.” Homes in the federal initiative are treated to about two inspections a year – twice the regular rate.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) selects facilities for the improvement program after receiving reports from state agencies. More nursing homes could be candidates for the improvement program, but a lack of funding restricts how many participate, said Mike Fierberg, public-affairs officer for the CMS Region 8 office in Denver.

After 18 to 24 months in the program, officials aim to have the problem facilities either improve their quality, lose Medicare and Medicaid funding or, if they’ve shown progress, to keep improving apace.

When CMS released the most recent list of homes in the SFFI, it released them in a PDF. AHCJ has converted and posted the list as Excel and HTML files to make searching the list easier for reporters. More information about nursing home quality is available from CMS and in AHCJ’s slim guide, “Covering the Health of Local Nursing Homes.”

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