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North Carolina Should Improve Its Oversight of Selected Nursing Homes' Compliance With Federal Requirements for Life Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Why OIG Did This Audit

In 2016, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) updated its life safety and emergency preparedness regulations to improve protections for all Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, including residents of long-term-care facilities (commonly called nursing homes). Updates included requirements that nursing homes have expanded sprinkler systems and smoke detector coverage; an emergency preparedness plan that is reviewed, trained on, tested, and updated at least annually; and provisions for sheltering in place and evacuation.

Our objective was to determine whether North Carolina ensured that selected nursing homes that participated in the Medicare or Medicaid programs complied with CMS and State requirements for life safety and emergency preparedness.

How OIG Did This Audit

Of the approximately 400 nursing homes in North Carolina that were enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid, we selected a nonstatistical sample of 20 nursing homes based on risk factors, including multiple high-risk deficiencies reported to CMS by North Carolina.

We conducted unannounced site visits at 20 nursing homes from December 2018 through May 2019. During the site visits, we checked for life safety violations and reviewed the nursing homes' emergency preparedness plans.

What OIG Found

North Carolina did not ensure that selected nursing homes that participated in the Medicare or Medicaid programs complied with CMS and State requirements for life safety and emergency preparedness. Of the 20 nursing homes that we visited, 18 had deficiencies in areas related to life safety or emergency preparedness. Specifically, 18 nursing homes had 64 instances of noncompliance with life safety requirements related to building exits, smoke barriers, and smoke partitions; fire detection and suppression systems; hazardous storage areas; smoking policies and fire drills; and electrical equipment power cords. Furthermore, 14 nursing homes had 124 instances of noncompliance with emergency preparedness requirements related to written emergency plans, emergency power; plans for sheltering in place and tracking residents and staff during and after an emergency, emergency communications plans, and emergency plan training and testing.

The instances of noncompliance occurred because nursing homes had inadequate management oversight and high staff turnover. In addition, North Carolina did not have a standard life safety training program for all nursing home staff and generally performed life safety surveys no more frequently than once every 8 to 15 months, even at these higher risk nursing homes.

What OIG Recommends and North Carolina Comments

We recommend that North Carolina: (1) follow up with the 18 nursing homes to ensure that corrective actions have been taken regarding the deficiencies we identified, (2) work with CMS on developing life safety training for nursing home staff, and (3) conduct more frequent surveys at nursing homes with a history of multiple high-risk deficiencies. We also made other administrative recommendations.

North Carolina partially concurred with our first and fifth recommendations and concurred with our sixth recommendation, but North Carolina did not concur with our remaining three recommendations. In addition, North Carolina expressed concerns regarding our life safety and emergency preparedness findings and provided general comments about our sample, the timing of our surveys, and the qualifications of the auditors performing the life safety survey. After reviewing North Carolina's comments, we modified our fifth recommendation to remove monitoring and removed the deficiency related to emergency water supplies. We maintain that our findings and recommendations, as revised, are valid.

Filed under: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services