Like much of the country, Illinois regulators are facing a backlog of nursing home inspections required by the federal government, made worse by a pause on the practice during the pandemic. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) conducts inspections, officially called standard surveys, of Medicare-certified nursing facilities and skilled nursing facilities in order for
Like much of the country, Illinois regulators are facing a backlog of nursing home inspections required by the federal government, made worse by a pause on the practice during the pandemic.
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) conducts inspections, officially called standard surveys, of Medicare-certified nursing facilities and skilled nursing facilities in order for the facilities to receive Medicare funding.
These surveys must happen at least every 15 months with a state-wide average of 12 months between standard inspections, per federal regulations.
As of the beginning of April, 59% of Illinois nursing homes had not had a standard health survey in at least 15 months, according to the most recent public data from the federal government. In the past 18 months, 39% hadn’t been inspected.
There was a federally mandated pause in these standard, in-person surveys in the spring and summer of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating the backlog.
During that pause, and in the months since, IDPH has conducted other surveys to monitor Illinois’ nursing homes. These include at least 1,100 “infection control” inspections aimed at containing spreading diseases, most notably COVID-19. These are shorter, less comprehensive inspections aimed at mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.
The virus has been a challenge for group living facilities of all kinds. With nursing home residents typically being at high risk for serious COVID-19 complications, these facilities have been a hotspot of for COVID around the state.
Nursing home residents have accounted for 47.1% of COVID-19 deaths in Illinois, according to IDPH data. Compared to all COVID patients, a nursing home resident is 8.3 times as likely to get COVID and 8.3 times as likely to die from it.
Even before the pandemic, Illinois’ nursing home regulators were struggling to keep up with investigating complaints at nursing homes, according to a report from the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General.
In 2018, Illinois officials received 1,191 complaints that were categorized as “immediate jeopardy,” requiring an on-site investigation within two business days, or “high priority,” requiring an on-site investigation within 10 business days.
Of these complaints, Illinois failed to investigate 20.7% of them within their required timeframe.
This was a drastic reduction from Illinois’ performance in 2016, when they were late on investigating only 1% of these types complaints.
At the time, Illinois officials cited an increase in complaints without the ability to increase staff numbers, according to the OIG report.
Locally, the state is behind on inspecting Effingham nursing homes. As of April 1, two of the county’s facilities hadn’t been inspected for over 18 months, with one not being inspected for 17 months.
None of the Effingham nursing homes are classified in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) most dangerous category, “special focus facilities.” That said, one nursing home is rated one star out of the agency’s five-star rating system: Effingham Rehab and Health Care Center.
The nursing home was inspected for infection control in December 2020, where regulators found multiple cases of the most serious type of deficiency. These included staff members not properly wearing personal protective equipment, staff members failing to follow hand sanitization procedure, and patients who had tested negative for COVID-19 being forced to live in the same room as patients who had tested positive, according to the inspection report from CMS.
Lindsay Mackenzie, who works in administration at the facility, says that after they received the citation, they addressed the issues.
“The corrections have been made,” she said, adding that the issue was officially resolved at their most recent annual inspection, made last week.
Mackenzie also said that she appreciates the importance of the role regulators play in her industry.
“They have a job to do, just like everybody else,” she said.
None of the nursing homes in Effingham are deficiency free, with each one being cited for something in the past three years. Because of the less serious nature of the problems at the other local facilities, CMS gives them each either four or five stars.
IDPH officials did not respond to a request for comment.