States can designate more nursing homes in urgent need of quality improvement, government says

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The federal government is reactivating the special focus facility program for nursing homes with quality issues, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has announced. The program was minimized due to budget cuts last year.

Nursing homes designated as special focus facilities (SFF) have a history of survey deficiencies and are subject to heightened oversight. CMS designates a certain number of SFF “slots” for each state; the number of slots was reduced in 2013, due to across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.

As of May 1, CMS will begin “rebuilding” the program by gradually increasing the number of slots, according to a memorandum issued Friday. The memo includes a table listing each state's available slots, currently enrolled SFFs and candidate SFFs.

States are required to fill their slots by July 1, and they have the option of immediately designating SFFs as of May 1, the memo explains.

Surveyors are expected to continue to conduct “last-chance” surveys for special focus facilities, which could result in more drastic quality improvement programs or termination from Medicare and Medicaid, according to the document. CMS also plans to introduce “additional methods” to address persistent quality issues, the memo states.

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