Health and Welfare told to stop posting inspection reports

From the Times-News

Feds say state was violating law

By Nate Poppino
Times-News writer

Among its other tasks, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare inspects the state’s nursing homes, hospitals and other entities on behalf of the federal government.

Since 2006, Health and Welfare has posted its inspection reports on its Web site for public review. But those postings have stopped after the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services warned Idaho it was violating federal law.

In an April 30 memorandum to all state survey agency directors, CMS Survey and Certification Group Director Thomas E. Hamilton reiterated the process for releasing facility surveys under the Freedom of Information Act – requiring requests in writing, and allowing the documents to be released as long as nothing identifies individual patients and staff and pursuant to certain timelines and review.

On Friday, CMS regional spokeswoman Stephanie Magill said those specifications have also led Medicare to restrict posting the surveys and correction plans to the Internet. Some states – including Idaho – regularly posted the documents, while others didn’t. Now all states are consistent, she said.

Idaho officials aren’t pleased with the change. Health and Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan said Thursday that the department has appealed the change, and spokeswoman Emily Simnitt said Friday afternoon that officials are still waiting for a response from CMS. Meanwhile, she said, further postings of all inspections on behalf of the federal agency are on hold.

“At this time, we are doing what CMS has asked us to do,” Simnitt said.

Federal regulations were previously silent on how public records requests for the surveys should be made, Magill said. For now, documents will be kept at central locations in each state and can be specifically requested in either physical or digital form.

One long-time administrator in the nursing-home and assisted-living industries said Friday that taking the surveys off the Internet may be a good thing. Scott Burpee, a current partner in Safe Haven Health Care, said that just enough information exists in nursing-home reports for someone familiar with a home to identify the patients involved in a case. That opens the door to possible patient-privacy violations, he said.

The Web postings also hold “marginal value” for families evaluating possible homes, Burpee said, noting that facilities are supposed to make recent reports available on-site and that a site tour is much more valuable than an inspection report that may lack needed context. It’s the same reason, he said, that administrators often aren’t fond of facility-rating Web sites developed by CMS.

“None of the way the survey was designed was for that,” Burpee said of publishing the documents.

It’s not clear what CMS has in mind for dealing with the Internet and survey documents. Magill wasn’t sure Friday if the agency is reviewing the issue, and said she was still waiting for more details from her central office. Hamilton’s memo states that more detailed information on its contents “will follow in the near future.”

From the Times-News

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