Are some accreditors cutting corners in south Florida?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

MIAMI - It looks like there could be some more funny business going on in south Florida's hotbed of DME fraud and abuse. A number of industry watchers have heard of providers there being surveyed and approved for accreditation in as little as 20 to 40 minutes.

A typical survey should take four to 8 hours for a single location and sometimes longer, say accreditation officials. But with providers scrambling to become accredited by Oct. 31--the deadline set by CMS for those who want to participate in the first round of national competitive bidding--some surveyors may be taking shortcuts.

"It is grossly unfair to have some companies subjected to rigorous two-day inspections while others are given a free pass," said Florida healthcare attorney Javier Talamo. "I understand that accreditation is a business, but it must be conducted in an ethical manner."

So far, news of the quickie surveys has traveled by word of mouth. No one's pointing fingers, and CMS declined to "respond to generalized rumors."

"If you know of a particular accrediting organization that is alleged to be cutting corners," please contact us with the details, a CMS official told HME News in mid-August.

A chance exists, say industry watchers, that CMS could penalize a rogue accrediting organization by refusing to accept its seal of approval. If that occurs, HMEs surveyed and approved by that accreditor could be forced to seek accreditation with another agency. That could spell disaster for a company planning to participate in competitive bidding.

Terry Duncombe, president and CEO of the Community Health Accreditation Program (CHAP), said she's "heard the complaints" but is not sure which organizations are rushing though the site surveys. CHAP's surveys take one to two days, she said.

Like Duncombe, officials at JCAHO, ACHC, the Compliance Team and HQAA (five of the 10 accrediting organizations approved by CMS) said their surveys take about a day to complete. Jim Newberry, deputy director of the Board of Orthotist/Prosthetist Certification (BOC)--another CMS approved accrediting organization--said his surveyors can inspect a small DME location in about four hours.

"We're trying to make it a streamlined process," Newberry said. "We've been back to some facilities two or three times, making sure they have corrected problems and are compliant with everything. I don't want it floating around that we are giving (anyone) a break. We are here to do the job and to get it done right."

When you consider that it takes a provider four to six months to prepare for a site survey, rushing through it in under an hour shows little respect for the process and lacks credibility, said Mary Nicholas, executive director of HQAA.

"I don't think I'd want Ford Motors to go through a quality process that takes half a day," she said. "I want to make sure that my automobile is safe and has met quality standards. I think the same should hold true for any organization."