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Only seven of Delaware’s long-term care facilities are not yet caught up on their annual surveys, but that number soon will be just five, according to state officials.

While more than half of US states fell significantly behind on such surveys, due largely to the pandemic and staffing shortages, Delaware has managed to buck the tide. Soon, 76 of its 81 facilities — nearly 94% — will be caught up, authorities said. 

Delayed surveys can be especially damaging to nursing homes that previously received a poor result, since it can take longer than expected for any corrections implemented by the facility to officially show up on the record. 

Cheryl Heiks, executive director of the Delaware Health Care Facilities Association, confirmed the good news for providers Monday.

“The state has worked diligently to overcome the accumulation of surveys caused by the pandemic,” she told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. “During that time, infection control surveys took priority.”

The state also has reduced its backlog of complaints against nursing homes by more than 40% in the last year.

Streamlining the process

Contracted surveyors were critical to Delaware’s success in eliminating the backlog. The state’s Division of Health Care Quality has struggled to fill surveyor vacancies and requires up to a year to train a new surveyor, even if successful in hiring, according to Corinna Getchell, the division’s director.

The US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General announced in January it would be auditing the use of third-party state surveyors, implying concerns that oversight is needed to ensure the quality of such surveys. Delaware providers, however, were pleased with the conduct of the state’s hired contractors, Heiks said.

“Contract surveyors have helped to alleviate the backlog caused by hiring challenges within the state agency,” she said. “Our providers have found them to be professional and well prepared to move efficiently and thoroughly through the process. We appreciate everything they have done to overcome the backlog.”

While states like Delaware are catching up on surveys, further complications to the process are waiting down the road. Staffing metrics used in Five-Star surveys will freeze from April through July of this year to prepare for newly updated metrics from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Streamlining and supportive measures like using state contractors can be a great help to facilities dealing with the complex survey process and to their residents, according to Heiks.

“Facilities are struggling with staffing at all levels and the survey process is a time-intensive process for the staff,” she told McKnight’s. “Processes and procedures that allow it to move effectively for both parties will allow for more time for resident care.”