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A federal government watchdog is launching an investigation into enforcement of nursing home staffing standards in the wake of a high-profile New York Times report on the issue.

The Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services this month kicked off its examination of federal oversight related to skilled nursing facilities. This comes after a joint report from the Times and Kaiser Health News, noting that many nursing homes had lower staff levels than reported to the government.

KHN said Thursday that the Office of the Inspector General plans to turn a keen eye toward staffing data that providers submitted through the Payroll-Based Journal system. Its goal is “to ensure data accuracy and improve resident quality of care by both enforcing minimum requirements and incentivizing high quality staffing above minimum requirements,” the office wrote.

An OIG spokesman told Kaiser the investigation is “part of our ongoing review of programs at the department,” with a report likely to land in the fiscal year that commences on October 2019.

Earlier this month, Sen. Ron Wyden, had demanded action on nursing home staffing enforcement, in a sharply worded letter to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. CMS declined to comment on this new investigation, KHN reported Thursday, and the agency has not issued an official response to the senator.  

In its own response to the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, LeadingAge said that  “consumers and their family members deserve the most timely, accurate information about the quality of nursing home care,” but disputed criticism of the PBJ system of staffing reporting.

“Understaffing and inaccurate reporting are issues that must be addressed,” CEO Katie Smith Sloan said. “However, the PBJ system just implemented by CMS is not the problem; it is the solution created to correct the previous issue of inaccurate reporting. Give it time. As the PBJ system continues in effect, there likely will be more continuity in staffing levels reported by individual nursing homes.”