It’s amazing what some lines of computer code can do. In the case of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, it threw off the workings of the new MDS 3.0 system.

Because of an error in the MDS program code, the validation reports that CMS sends out to confirm MDS records contained mistakes. That led to a temporary shutdown of the system last weekend. That was after confusion about what was happening sent ripples of anger and anxiety among nursing home providers.

It was just “a couple lines of code,” that were the source of the problem, Sheila Lambowitz, director of the Division of Institutional Post Acute Care at CMS, told McKnight’s Monday. The part in the code that was supposed to assign the RUG group was off by one character.

She explained it as when you read across a page “and your eye slips and all of a sudden you’re one line down.”  

Small mistake, big impact

The problem was “in the scheme of things a small error, but the effect was on every validation report, so that was noticeable,” Lambowitz said.

That is likely an understatement to nursing home providers, whose jobs are dependent on the records they submit, which generate necessary revenues for their facilities. The same is true for software vendors whose products and expertise nursing homes rely on to create the reports. The glitch has made life, at least, work life, unnecessarily stressful over the last couple of weeks for many in long-term care.

Lambowitz emphasized that nursing homes will not be penalized for late MDS transmissions during this transition period. That is good. Everyone is entitled to make a mistake. But CMS also should take full ownership of this foul-up and give nursing homes and software companies ample time to recover.

After all, one agency’s glitch can easily be another person’s last day at work—or company’s lost contract.