More ratings, relationships and payment incentives are tied to nursing home data than ever before, but that data also appears to be harder than just about ever to collect in a timely manner.

We were reminded of the pressures on surveyors (and nursing homes way behind on being surveyed) a couple of different ways in the past this month.

In mid-February, I sat in on a webinar hosted by those number-hungry experts at Zimmet Healthcare Services Group, during which a consultant outlined a planned three-month freeze of the staffing measures used to calculate Five-Star ratings. The pause is to allow a switchover to new calculations that incorporate resident acuity as determined by the Patient Driven Payment Model.

That’s a great aim, as it will give consumers a more accurate depiction of whether operators are staffing appropriately.

But for the many who say they’ve improved recruitment in the meantime (and had struggled mightily with staffing previously), it means they’ll have to wait longer for the latest review to put some extra shine on their staffing stars.

Waiting for results has been an issue since the pandemic, when a pause in some survey activity was followed by the flight of long-tenured inspectors at both the state and federal levels. In some cases and in some states, nursing homes were routinely waiting up to three years for what is supposed to be essentially an annual site visit.

If you have good marks, the idea that a star rating remains stagnant isn’t so bad.

But should you be looking to get new results posted that reflect improvement in quality, staffing or other measures, the wait could literally be life-threatening. Not only do consumers use the ratings to select facilities for themselves or family members, but referral partners and insurers use specific measures to bring providers in network.

And facilities in dire straits with the Special Focus Facility program (or on the candidate list for it) desperately need fresh data to prove any changes they’re making are working. So, too, do potential buyers of such facilities, who might need them to prove turnaround potential to a lender.

All this is good cause to celebrate news this week from Delaware, where the state survey agency reported it has brought all but about 6% of its facilities up-to-date on annual surveys. The state also has reduced its backlog of complaints against nursing homes by more than 40% in the last year.

That actually could have been bad news.

Like most nursing homes, Delaware’s survey agency (and many nationwide) have found it nearly impossible to hire its own inspectors. So it outsourced the job to third-party surveyors, the use of which has recently come under scrutiny by an HHS watchdog.

But in Delaware, it seems, this story does indeed have a happy ending.

Cheryl Heiks, executive director of the Delaware Health Care Facilities Association, told McKnight’s her members found the temps “to be professional and well prepared to move efficiently and thoroughly through the process.”

The wheels of bureaucracy always churn slowly, but in this case, at least the outcomes generally have been (sort-of) worth the wait. 

Now let’s see how long it takes both federal and state officials elsewhere to get hiring, get posting and start giving both providers and consumers the timely accuracy they each desire.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.