Last month’s reprieve from continuing pre-claim review demonstrations by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the announcement that CMS is considering a delay in the start date for new Conditions of Participation has created a sense of cautious relief in the home health field.
Many home health professionals are wondering if the reprieves and delays reflect a trend away from increasingly stringent compliance demands on home health agencies in recent years.
But gambling on the advent of a more relaxed regulatory climate could have negative consequences for agencies – including CMS citations for non-compliance beginning in November for agencies failing to meet new Emergency Preparedness Program requirements, warned J’non Griffin, president and owner of Home Health Solutions LLC.
“It’s really important not to lose our sense of urgency in home health,” J’non said. “Emergency Preparedness Programs should be a priority for agencies right now. The programs take a while to put into place, and CMS has said that agencies will be expected to meet EP requirements by Nov. 15, 2017, or be cited for non-compliance.”
A proposal CMS is now considering to push back the start date for revised Conditions of Participation is not expected to impact the Nov. 15 effective date for Emergency Preparedness Programs.
“This means that regardless of whether CoPs are implemented on July 13, 2017, or pushed back six months until January, 2018, home health agencies will need to have in place their Emergency Preparedness Programs by this November,” J’non said.
Community wide disaster drills
To avoid non-compliance, beginning Nov. 15, agencies will need to have already conducted the community-wide disaster drills which are part of the CMS-mandated Emergency Preparedness Programs.
This requirement has been one of the most intimidating to many agencies, according to J’non, because it requires them to pool efforts with local and state emergency agencies and health care coalitions to conduct full-scale community exercises.
Under the Final Rule mandating home health Emergency Preparedness Programs, two of these drills are required annually for agencies to test their emergency operations, although one of the drills may be a tabletop exercise. Agencies experiencing real emergencies may be excused from one of the required yearly drills.
Some agencies have not yet begun efforts to coordinate the disaster drills because they are hoping additional guidance will be provided when interpretive guidelines for the new CoPs are issued.
“Agencies really shouldn’t wait for interpretive guidelines to be issued. CMS has specifically addressed this issue, stating that agencies must perform their community wide disaster drills by Nov. 15,” J’non said.
On its web site, CMS states:
“We realize that some providers and suppliers are waiting for the release of the interpretive guidance to begin planning these exercises, but that is not necessary nor is it advised. Providers and suppliers that are found to have not completed these exercises, or any other requirements of the Final Rule upon their survey, will be cited for non-compliance.”
Agencies unable to comply
Agencies unable to conduct a community-based exercise by the deadline may be able to document why and avoid citation for non-compliance as long as reasons are valid, J’non said.
In rural areas, for example, agencies may not have access to the same resources as agencies in more populated areas. In a community in which an annual disaster drill is already scheduled to take place after the Nov. 15 deadline, it may make more sense for an agency to wait and join existing community efforts.
Agencies who find themselves in these or other situations which hinder efforts to comply with the disaster drill mandate must thoroughly document efforts to coordinate a community wide drill, explaining why it was not possible within the time frame, according to J’non. They will still need to conduct and document a facility-based disaster drill, she said.
On its web site, CMS identifies these documentation requirements:
“The documentation should include what emergency agencies and or health care coalitions the provider or supplier contacted to partner in a full-scale community exercise and the specific reason(s) why a full-scale exercise was not possible.”
Where to find help
Home Health Solutions offers an Assembly Kit that breaks down the development of an Emergency Preparedness Program into 12 easy-to-follow steps, offers a Sample Plan to follow, and provides more than 30 assessment tools and forms which will be needed to capture the right information for creating a fully compliant Emergency Preparedness Program.
It’s designed to simplify the process for busy agency executives with a format anyone can easily follow to meet CMS requirements.
The Assembly Kit can be purchased at: www.homehealthsolutionsllc.com/solutions-shop
The CMS web site offers resources such as checklists, links to emergency preparedness agencies, planning templates and many other aids to assist agencies in developing Emergency Preparedness Programs. The website also provides a State-by-State listing of Health Care Coalitions. The information can be found at: