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 Senate Finance Panel Preps Hearing on Safety of Skilled Nursing Facilities

A Senate Finance Committee hearing scheduled for March 6 will examine the safety of skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) amid concerns by some in Congress over incidents of abuse and neglect that have made headlines in recent months.

The Finance panel, chaired by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), said the latest witness list includes officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and also David Gifford, MD, senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs for the American Health Care Association (AHCA).

“I would underscore that there is always room for improvement in preventing abuse and neglect,” says AHCA Senior Vice President of Government Relations Clifton Porter II. “We learn from each incident and want to work with Congress to formulate constructive solutions,” he says. “AHCA will be offering some ideas at the hearing.”

AHCA and other advocates for long term and post-acute care agree that heinous behavior should be punished severely, but stress that overall quality in SNFs has improved greatly in the past seven years and that high-quality, compassionate care is the norm, not the exception.

In 2011, for example, the AHCA/National Center for Assisted Living partnered with CMS to start the Quality Initiative, which aimed to improve quality of care across several key metrics, including customer satisfaction.

AHCA Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Beth Martino says CMS data have shown the magnitude of the improvement, pointing to an 11.6 percent decline in rehospitalizations since 2011, despite delivering increasingly complex care.

SNFs have also reduced the number of residents receiving antipsychotic medication, from a rate of one in four residents in 2011 to fewer than one in seven today, and over that same time period, ailments have declined, including a 20 percent decrease in pressure ulcers and a 35 percent drop in depression, CMS said. SNF residents experiencing pain registered at one out of eight in 2011; now it is down to one in 18, according to CMS. 

Advocates also pointed out that nursing care has evolved greatly, resulting in better outcomes, with nearly two-thirds of patients returning home after receiving rehabilitation, CMS said.

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