In 2003 and 2004, hearings held by the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, reports by the GAO, and newspaper articles all raised concerns about the quality of care in residential care settings, and the challenges providers and state oversight agencies face in assuring quality. In April 2004, the GAO issued a report on quality assurance initiatives in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington.14
The report stated that assisted living facilities are more likely to meet and maintain licensing standards if they can obtain help in interpreting those standards and in determining what concrete changes they need to make to satisfy them. It described an initiative in Washington, which established a staff of quality consultants to provide such training and advice to assisted living providers on a voluntary basis. Evaluations at 6 months and 2 years after implementation documented improvements in provider compliance as well as resident health and safety. However, a statewide budget crisis required the state to end funding for the program in order to maintain traditional licensing enforcement functions.
Wisconsin and Kansas have recently initiated activities to better assure quality. The Wisconsin Bureau of Quality Assurance created an Assisted Living Forum for stakeholders to discuss current issues, interpretation of regulations, best practices, quality improvement, staffing issues, national and state trends, and other public policy issues.
Wisconsin has also revised its survey process for residential care apartment complexes, its apartment model of assisted living, which is not licensed but has to be either registered, or certified to serve Medicaid clients. The new process includes a technical assistance component to interpret requirements, provide guidance to staff on consumer quality of life and care; review provider systems, processes and policies; and explain new or innovative programs. The revised survey strategy includes seven types of surveys: initial, standard, abbreviated, complaint, verification, monitoring and self-report. The state determines which type of survey to conduct for each facility based on a range of factors, including its citation history. Abbreviated surveys are performed for facilities without any enforcement actions over the past 3 years and no substantial complaints or deficiency citations.
Kansas has adopted a collaborative oversight approach. Facility staff accompany the surveyor during the review. Observations are discussed during the process and, when necessary, problem areas are reviewed in the context of the regulatory requirements. Deficiency statements focus on consumer outcomes. The licensing director also conducts a full day training course several times a year on the role of licensed nursing in assisted living facilities for nurses, operators and owners. The training covers use of the assessment, developing a services plan, managing medications and the nurse practice act. The state believes that the combination of regular visits, consistent application of the regulations, and a more collaborative oversight process and training have resulted in better compliance with the regulations and fewer complaints.
Several states reported organizing periodic trainings for facility staff or including articles in a newsletter about specific problems that surveyors find are occurring in a number of facilities. Others cited a conflict between oversight and consultation functions. One state indicated that facilities are responsible for resolving quality problems and the state provides consultants to assist them to do so. Other states clarify rules or statutes with facility staff during the survey or during exit interviews after the survey is completed. If the facility is able to correct the problem during the survey, no deficiency is issued. Utah allows new administrators to request assistance, and has procedures for the licensing agency to review survey forms with administrators, as well as previous reports and deficiencies. Pennsylvania provides guidance by disseminating information about best practices.
A few states indicated that they could not provide consultation and technical assistance due to staff shortages and the need to complete surveys.
In 2002, NASHP conducted a survey of licensing officials in all the states and asked them to rank ten areas by the frequency of deficiencies and complaints. Thirty-four states ranked the areas in the following order:
- Medications (48 percent indicated that problems occurred frequently or very often)
- Problems with staff quality and qualifications (41 percent indicated that problems occurred frequently or very often)
- Sufficient staff (36 percent)
- Records (32 percent)
- Care plans (24 percent)
- Inadequate care (21 percent)
- Admission/discharge (15 percent)
- Access to medical care (3 percent)
- Abuse (3 percent)
- Billing/charges (3 percent)
Fifty-eight percent of the states indicated that their penalty trends remained about the same in 2001 compared to 1999-2000; 34 percent reported that the number of penalties increased and 8 percent reported that they had declined. Eighty percent of the states felt their monitoring and enforcement systems were effective or very effective. The survey asked states to describe aspects of their process that were working well. A number of states identified the process of making follow-up visits when survey findings/complaints indicated areas of concern. Several states noted that having a range of remedies available to act on survey findings was effective as well as making unannounced visits. Progressive enforcement based on the facility's history and response was also cited as an effective strategy.
One state indicated that counties are involved in monitoring Medicaid waiver participants and that service negotiations helped clarify service contracts. Another said that using state nurse consultants and specialty staff, such as pharmacists and dieticians, to monitor facilities with serious or numerous problems was effective.
Other quality assurance strategies cited include providing technical assistance and follow-up; acting within 10 days on complaints; having clear lines of communication for and definition of duties for survey staff; developing clear enforcement procedures that are well understood by staff; meeting with providers to discuss issues; providing training; conducting follow-up visits; and maintaining a consumer perspective that focuses on improving care not just punishing past failures. States described a number of quality initiatives underway including:
- Furnishing provider training;
- Implementing new training requirements for medication aides;
- Revising the survey process;
- Developing a more formalized consultation program;
- Providing more technical assistance;
- Conducting forums for providers to discuss quality issues; and
- Implementing quality assurance and quality improvement regulations.
Other strategies focused on revising standards for assessment, training, and level of care, including:
- Working with providers to develop minimal standards for assessments, service plans, negotiated risk agreements, and disclosure requirements;
- Adding disclosure requirements for dementia care providers;
- Increasing the licensing authority for staffing, training, disclosure, and Alzheimer's care;
- Working to increase staff training requirements;
- Working to establish specific staffing requirements for special care units;
- Conducting regulatory reviews to bring provisions up to national standards; and
- Increasing requirements for a comprehensive resident assessment.
Over half the states reported that the number of staff available for survey and monitoring was not keeping pace with the growth in the supply of facilities.
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