Guest Columns

Is your compliance officer on speed dial?

Margaret Scavotto
Margaret Scavotto

At most healthcare facilities, the compliance officer is very busy, as are the administrator, privacy officer, security officer, and the person in charge of purchasing and contracting. These people wear many hats, and don't have time to collaborate - or the organization doesn't have processes in place to facilitate collaboration. 

Does this sound familiar? This scenario is common, perhaps even the norm. It's also very risky from a compliance standpoint. Here are some examples of what can go wrong when the compliance officer is left out of business decisions at a nursing home.

A director of nursing wants to buy laptops for nurses, in order to improve the accuracy of documentation. The administrator approves the cost, and IT makes the purchase. After the laptops arrive, the compliance officer finds out. She advises the organization to buy encryption and anti-virus software for HIPAA security purposes - and is told it's not in the budget.

In another example, the CEO or a board member comes across an opportunity to enter an arrangement with a nearby hospital. The hospital will pay a fee to reserve a number of SNF beds in case the hospital needs them for its patients. The CEO or board member works out the details without contacting the compliance officer. It turns out that the arrangement violates the Anti-Kickback Statute. If the officer had known, she could have involved legal counsel to structure the arrangement in a way that is appropriate. 

The compliance officer needs a seat at the table for business decisions in long-term care facilities to avoid these common pitfalls. Here are some steps you can take to make this happen: 

  • Use your compliance committee. Does your compliance committee meet quarterly, and listen while the compliance officer reads the meeting agenda? If there's no discussion, you have a missed opportunity.

    Leverage your compliance resources - in this case, your leaders and experts - to share information about emerging risks and upcoming contracts and deals. By getting committee members in the habit of including each other in big decisions, you can avoid costly communication breakdowns. 

  • Work on your work flow. If your managers aren't used to collaborating, it might be hard to get started. Get everyone together, and write down examples of situations where the compliance officer (or another compliance leader, such as a HIPAA officer), should be involved. For example, you might write down "IT purchase" and "contract with a referral source," to start. Encourage your team to add to this list and share it at regular compliance committee meetings. 
  • Put the compliance officer on speed dial. This one is pretty basic, but can make a big difference. Identify who needs the compliance officer on speed dial, starting with your HIPAA officers, and anyone in a position to enter a contract. You might even add a "Call the Compliance Officer" sticker to their phone or computer as a friendly reminder. You have a compliance officer for a reason: to keep your organization compliant. Make sure everyone in your organization understands when and how to use this person, and everyone will make better decisions.

Margaret Scavotto, JD, CHC, is the director of Director of Compliance Services at Management Performance Associates in Missouri.

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Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.

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