The American Health Care Association (AHCA) has helped to launch an initiative from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) aimed at ensuring the appropriate use of antipsychotic medications among skilled nursing facility residents.

“While many clinicians and consumers believe these medications are effective, we know from medical literature that antipsychotics have limited effectiveness and actually increase the health risks for individuals,” said David Gifford, MD, AHCA’s senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs, who was included in the agency’s national announcement of the initiative.

“We also know there are many facilities that have very low use of antipsychotics and are focusing on non-pharmacological approaches that have been shown to improve care and quality of life for residents,” Gifford said. “It’s time to put everything we know to good use.”

The CMS initiative, called the Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in Nursing Homes, establishes a goal of reducing the use of antipsychotic drugs in nursing facilities by 15 percent by the end of 2012. This is the same goal set last February by AHCA’s own Quality Initiative.

Unnecessary use of antipsychotic drugs is a “significant challenge in ensuring appropriate dementia care,” CMS said in a statement. The agency’s data show that in 2010, more than 17 percent of nursing facility residents had daily doses above recommended levels.

Through the partnership—an alliance of federal and state partners, skilled nursing facilities and other providers, advocacy groups, and caregivers—CMS will:

■ Offer enhanced training for nursing facilities and surveyors;
■ Make public the data on individual facilities’ antipsychotic drug use through Nursing Home Compare;
■ Provide information on alternatives to antipsychotic drug use, such as “consistent staff assignments, increased exercise or time outdoors, monitoring and managing acute and chronic pain, and planning individualized activities,” the agency said.

“Providers are up to the challenge,” Gifford said, noting that AHCA members made the commitment to reduce antipsychotic drug use several months ago. “Through this partnership, AHCA and skilled nursing centers across the country have a confirmed commitment, additional assistance, and a common cause to better serve our residents who are living with dementia.”