CMS reduces penalties for medical errors at nursing homes: 5 things to know

Under President Donald Trump, CMS has softened penalties against nursing homes for patient safety errors, according to The New York Times.

Here are five things to know.

1. The relaxing of these penalties occurred over the course of President Trump's first year in office. In October, for example, CMS discouraged its regional offices from issuing fines for one-time mistakes at nursing homes, even if the error contributed to the death of a patient. However, the agency maintained nursing homes should still be fined for systemic errors and errors resulting from intentional harm.

2. The changes in regulatory enforcement have been welcomed by industry groups such as the American Health Care Association, which argued the penalties under President Barack Obama were overly punitive and did not focus on helping nursing homes improve care.

3. In July, CMS instructed state agencies to cease the issuance of daily fines for safety violations in nursing homes that happened prior to an inspection. These fines were originally meant to spur urgent solutions to safety issues, but they became purely disciplinary instead of corrective when issued after the error had already been resolved or addressed by the nursing home, according to David Gifford, senior vice president for quality with the AHCA.

"What was happening is you were seeing massive fines accumulating because they were applying them on a per-day basis retrospectively," Mr. Gifford told the Times.

4. However, these changes could protect nursing homes from maximum fines for even the most harmful errors. For example, now shuttered Lincoln Manor in Decatur, Ill., was fined $282,954 in September 2016 after staff failed to treat a patient whose implanted pain medication pump ruptured through her abdomen over the span of eight days. The patient eventually died. It took the facility 28 days after the error to retrain nurses so a similar event wouldn't occur. Under the new penalties, the facility would have been fined less than $21,000, according to the Times.

5. Advocates for nursing home residents say the regulatory changes could undo progress made to reduce errors in these facilities. Janet Wells, a consultant for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, told the Times the changes have come at a time when "some egregious violations and injuries to residents are being penalized — finally — at a level that gets the industry's attention and isn't just the cost of doing business."

To read the full article from The New York Times, click here.

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