Since 1999, Florida has established and implemented a number of quality improvement programs including a technical assistance program, public reporting measures, recognition programs, training/education efforts, risk management requirements and mandated increases in minimum direct care staffing. All of these measures stem from legislative mandates implemented in direct response to concerns regarding the quality of care in Florida nursing homes and the liability insurance crisis.
The centerpiece of the quality improvement efforts is the Quality Monitor program first established in 1999. The monitors visit all facilities quarterly, providing education and monitoring for facility staff. They also seek to identify any conditions that are potentially detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of nursing home residents. The role of the quality monitor has recently expanded to include providing support to field office staff during a closure or immediate jeopardy situation, reviewing the risk management program and records of adverse incidents, and ensuring that staffing requirements are being met. The majority of participants stated that they found the QM visits to be very helpful, describing them as providing objective, non-threatening advice. They particularly appreciated the Quality Monitors sharing information on best practices, recommending educational materials and offering interpretation and clarification of state and Federal rules and regulations. However, many were concerned about the increased blurring of monitor and surveyor roles and the negative impact this could potentially have on the willingness of facilities to openly discuss problems they were experiencing.
The risk management program implemented in 2001 is designed to identify incidents occurring in health care facilities, which have an outcome of patient injury and may reflect error in the course of the delivery of health care services. Providers reported that the risk management requirement had improved the quality of care by requiring them to investigate incidents and accidents in greater detail, examine their facility processes for flawed practices, and make changes with the goal to prevent future problems. Although the number of liability claims filed in the state has reportedly been tapering off since it peaked in October 2001, there has not yet been an easing in the liability insurance crisis.
Consumer advocates and provider representatives we spoke with had mixed reviews of the quality improvement programs. While nearly all stakeholders would recommend the Quality Monitor and risk management programs, not all believed strongly in the ability of any of the implemented programs to improve quality of care or resident outcomes. In fact, many stakeholders were skeptical that these efforts were sufficient to solve the quality of care problem in nursing homes. They named issues such as the pervasive problem of high staff turnover and inadequate reimbursement as barriers to high quality performance.
We are unable to draw conclusions as to what effect any of Florida's quality improvement programs will have on nursing home quality. First, the programs have been in operation for only a short period of time. Second, the state is not performing the type of evaluation necessary for a rigorous impact analysis. Furthermore, there are a multitude of initiatives underway, all enacted during the same timeframe and during a time of changes within the nursing home industry (e.g., declines in occupancy, Medicare skilled nursing facility prospective payment, public reporting of MDS-based quality indicators). Even so, by reviewing the experiences of Florida, we believe some important lessons can be learned that might be applicable to other states considering quality improvement programs. In addition to those described in the Lessons Learned section above, we would add that states planning to implement quality improvement programs should consider the potential need to evaluate these programs--which is being demanded increasingly by program funders in the current fiscal environment--and do their best to design the programs in a manner that will allow their evaluation needs to be met.