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Senior and Post-Acute Healthcare News and Topics

The Real Impacts of Poor Quality, Inadequate Compliance and Weak Risk Management

A number of interesting information drops occurred this past week or so reminding me that from time to time, the obvious isn’t always so obvious.  The seniors housing and skilled care industry today is going through a rocky patch.  A solid half of the SNF industry is severely hurting or struggling mightily due to Med Advantage, softer demand, pervasive reliance on Medicaid for census, labor shortages, rising wage pressure, tight Medicare reimbursement, new regulations, etc. (I could elaborate for a stand-alone article).  While not as pervasive in its struggles as the SNF industry, Assisted Living is facing challenges due to softer census, too much capacity, rising resident acuity, labor costs and shortages and gradually increasing regulatory scrutiny.  The relative strength in the overall seniors housing and post-acute sector is home health and independent housing.  Notice, I did say relative as home health demand is good but regulatory over-burden is still present along with tight reimbursement.  Home health is also experiencing labor challenges, the same as SNFs and ALFs.  The relative strength that is found in independent housing tends to be more on the market and sub-market rent side.  Many, many high-end providers are still struggling with census challenges and soft demand in certain markets.

As I have written and counseled many times to investors and clients alike, there is something to learn from the national trends but health care and seniors housing is still, a local reality.  What this means is that in spite of some rocky water for the industry, there are providers that do well and are bullish about their fortune in their respective industry segments.  Not to seem too convoluted, the national trends matter but as I like to think, in the context of what they truly mean.  In this regard, what they truly mean is how the trends impact providers on a macro basis as well as on a micro, behavioral basis.

As I started, this past week or so included some interesting information drops.  The first and not too surprising, is another alarm from a major, publicly traded provider organization that it was on the narrow ledge to failure.  Five Star Senior Living provided notice that given its financial condition now and as forecasted, it would not be able to meet its continuing obligations in the form of debt or timely payment of operating expenses.  When I say half the SNF industry is in battle to survive, I’m not kidding.

In unrelated drops, CNA (the major national commercial insurance provider) released its 2018 Claims Report for Long-Term Care/Senior Living.  The claims in this case are liability related.  Following CNA’s release, Willis Towers Perrin (major insurance brokerage and consultancy firm) provided their outlook for liability insurance noting that Long-Term Care and Seniors Housing should expect liability premium increases of 5% to 30%.  Anecdotally and unrelated, we are seeing steep property/casualty increases in the industry as well due to extreme weather losses over the last twelve to eighteen months.

While not absolute but substantial in nature, there is a direct correlation between providers that are struggling and the quality of care and service they provide to their patients.  The core competencies required to provide superb care are tied directly to compliance and risk management.  I have never seen an organization that delivers excellent care have poor compliance trends (billing, survey, other) and weak risk management leading to high levels of worker’s comp cases, lawsuits, liability insurance claims, etc.  Lately, there is the same correlation developing between quality and financial results.  As more quality payer source referrals and higher reimbursement with incentive payments connect to patient care outcomes, a gap is evident between the providers that are thriving and those that are dying.  That gap is the quality divide.

There is a spiral effect that is visible today in the SNF industry.  This effect has been visible for some time in hospitals.  It occurs as follows.

  • Care delivery is inconsistent and in most cases, not great.  Service is the same.
  • Complaints and survey results demonstrate the same and are reflected in star ratings.
  • Consumers and referral sources catch wind that care is not good.
  • Staff turnover accelerates, including key personnel that take with them, a disparaging message regarding care.
  • Quality mix erodes slightly.  Medicaid census increases as the “next best” alternative to an empty bed.
  • Financial results start eroding and losses occur or come into view.  Cash margins are getting tighter.
  • Expenses become an issue and cuts are necessary.  The cuts are incongruous to improving care.
  • With limited resources, quality suffers even more.  No money is available for capital and equipment upgrades.  Staff morale suffers and staffing levels are lower.  Productivity wanes as morale is poor and patient care follows.
  • Survey results are very poor and fines now happen.  The fines are expensive, removing more resources away from patient care.
  • Costs are growing rapidly related to higher insurance premiums, poor worker’s comp experience, unemployment costs, turnover, and legal costs to defend the facility.  These costs are removing resources away from patient care.
  •  Finally, because the resources are too depleted to make the necessary changes to rebuild quality, staff levels, etc. and no lender is available to front any more capital, the enterprise collapses.  The names are becoming familiar….Signature, ManorCare, Five Star, Genesis, Kindred are all SNF providers whose future is extinction or “almost”.

Arguably it takes money to have and deliver quality.  Equally as arguable today is that without quality, money won’t be made sufficient enough to stave-off failure due to…poor quality.  When quality isn’t the primary objective, compliance and risk management work as dead weights that the organization must carry; and the weight increases over time.  Why this isn’t obvious yet in the post-acute and seniors housing industry is beyond me.  An analogy that  I have used time and time again is the restaurant analogy.  Successful restaurants are laser-focused on their products – food and service.  They know that poor marks in either category or an outbreak of food borne illness can be death to their livelihood. In a crowded market of diners, price or value ties to quality and experience across a myriad of options.  What is common among the restaurants that succeed is their quality meets and exceeds, the customer’s realization of value (getting equal to or more satisfaction for the price paid).  When this occurs, money flows in increments sufficient to reward investors, pay employees, invest in equipment, and to reinvest in the products and services that customers buy.  Simple.

Seniors housing and post-acute care aren’t too different or disparate from the restaurant analogy.  The market is crowded with options…too many actually. Yes, the customer relationships are a bit different but the mechanics and economic levers and realities identical.  Providers that give great care, equal to or higher than the price points/reimbursement levels are GAINING customers via referrals.  The customers they are gaining are coming with good payment sources.  Money in the form of cash flow is strong enough to invest in plant, property, equipment and staff.  Doing so reinforces quality and service and allows the referral cycle to optimize.  As the market continues to shrink in terms of number of providers due to failure, the few that are exceptional continue to see their future and fortune improve.  Again, simple.

What we know is the following and the message should be clear today for those who still can control how they approach and manage their quality and customer experience.

  • Poor quality costs money disproportionately more than the dollars required to deliver “high quality”.  The costs are erosive and ongoing.
    • Higher insurance premiums
    • Poor compliance results with fines (the federal fines today are steep and immediate for SNFs)
    • Higher capital costs (yes lenders are now looking at quality measures as a measure of credit risk)
    • Increased litigation risks which when realized, contribute to higher insurance premiums.
  • All of the reimbursement incentives today and going forward are only available to providers that can deliver high quality, efficient patient outcomes.  Value-based purchasing rewards good care (limited rehospitalizations) and punishes poor care.  The impact is just being seen today and in the years forward, the impact is greater – both ways (reward and punishment).   The same is true under the new and forthcoming, case-mix payment models.  The high quality, adept providers will be able to provide the care rewarded highest, under these new payment models (PDPM, PDGM).  Those that don’t have the clinical infrastructure will languish.
  • Referrals today are more and more, skewed toward quality providers.  With hospitals and narrow networks looking for select post-acute providers that won’t increase their risks in value-based purchasing or bundles/ACOs, poor providers in terms of quality are increasingly seeing diminished referrals.
  • The Plaintiff’s Bar is watching the SNF and seniors housing industry carefully and with optimism.  The CNA report I referenced includes these snippets.
    • 22.6% of closed claims relate to pressure injuries (an almost entirely avoidable negative outcome).
    • Death from or related to pressure injuries is the highest average claim by cost.
    • 14 out of the 15 highest cost claims occurred in for-profit facilities.
    • Assisted Living claims cost more on average than SNF claims.
    • Falls continue to represent the lion share of liability claims – 40+%.  The vast majority tie to SNF care.
    • The frequency of claims is increasing.
    • Independent Living is not immune.  The report contains claim data on fall and pressure injury cases from Independent Living.

While no organization is immune from a law suit, the reality remains that organizations with exemplary quality history, high satisfaction levels, and processes that focus uniquely on the elements of great care and service (staffing levels, staff competency, good management, proper equipment, IT infrastructure, etc.) provide less of a target, if any.  No matter where, negative outcomes still occur but in “quality” organizations, they are an exception.  Because care is primary and service right behind, there is far less of a motivation for patients and families to litigate as by reason, the organization wasn’t negligent.  Again, the connections are rather ‘simple’.

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November 16, 2018 - Posted by | Assisted Living, Home Health, Senior Housing, Skilled Nursing | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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