Quality Measures Can Strengthen Care for Vulnerable Populations

By Jessica Briefer French

Editor’s note: The SCAN Foundation, The John A. Hartford Foundation, the Administration for Community Living, the Gary and Mary West Foundation, the Marin Community Foundation and the Colorado Health Foundation have united to fund a three-year grant to develop and establish the Aging and Disability Business Institute, housed within n4a. Under the grant, ASA and n4a are collaborating on a series of articles and case studies in Aging Today that will help to prepare, educate and support community-based organizations and healthcare payers to pro­vide quality care and services.   Across the country, budget shortfalls have put pressure on state Medicaid programs that pro­vide most publicly funded long-term service and supports (LTSS). Simultaneously, many people are unprepared for the expenses related to aging and for their probable need for LTSS.

People’s strong preference for aging in place and the growing need for states to save money on institutional care have fueled a variety of federal initiatives to “rebalance” from institutional care to home- and community-based services (the Affordable Care Act created new opportunities for states to shift long-term care from institutions to the community). State Medicaid programs have taken 
 
advantage of financial incentives and used federal waivers to provide more LTSS in people’s homes and communities. And, increasingly, states also are moving from fee-for-service to managed care for LTSS delivery.
 
LTSS delivery is shifting to capitated managed care arrangements as state Medi­caid programs seek to increase accountability, improve quality and promote a cost-effective service delivery system that integrates care across all services—medical, behavioral, social and LTSS. Meeting these goals requires new skills, infrastructure and processes for managed care organizations (MCO) and commu­nity-based organizations (CBO).
 
A variety of organizations are responsible for arranging for LTSS, including traditional MCOs, managed LTSS-only health plans and CBOs such as Aging and Disability Resource Centers and area agencies on aging (AAA). Traditional MCOs are broadening their focus from a purely medical model to provide functional and social supports (e.g., by partnering with CBOs, which have long been re­sponsible for arranging for those services).
 
Measurement and Evaluation Can Help High-Need Populations
In 2010, The SCAN Foundation, concerned about the quality of care for people with dual eligibility or who need LTSS, asked the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) to research how to apply measurement and evaluation to better address the challenges facing high-needs populations.

NCQA’s LTSS Accreditation programs help MCOs and CBOs work together in this changing landscape to provide person-centered, integrated care for people with complex needs and to en­sure that organizations offering LTSS safeguard patients’ rights and continuously improve quality. When considering measuring quality for individuals with complex needs, NCQA strove to keep the person at the center of the critical processes of assessment and care planning.

NCQA has followed two tracks. The first involves working with organizations to build the structures and processes they need to deliver person-driven care and services, and to generate the data required to calculate quality measures. Part of this capacity-building work is NCQA’s accredi­tation program, launched in July 2016, and the Roadmap to Success in LTSS, a compendium of practical “how-to” examples. The second track involves developing measures of person-driv­en outcomes: measures based on what is important to individuals. National reviews of quality mea­sures have found very few that ad­dress the primary concerns of older adults and people who use LTSS. For people with complex needs, “quality” means medical care and LTSS that are designed and executed to address their priorities, such as maintaining independence and decision-making autonomy, living in their own homes, interacting with friends and family or staying out of the hospital.

With The SCAN Foundation’s support, NCQA developed a framework for measuring LTSS quality and drafted standards for integrated care. The framework (see figure, above) describes an infrastructure that underpins the clinical care process and comprises quality improvement sys­tems, effective population management, health information technology and beneficiary engage­ment and rights. Clinical care and services begin with screening and assessing a person’s strengths, resources, needs and goals. Screening and assessment inform an individualized care or service plan that is shared with the interdisciplinary care team, which uses it to coordinate care and services—ultimately resulting in achievement of the quadruple aim: healthy people, healthy communities and better and more af­fordable care.

With support from The SCAN Foundation and The John A. Hartford Foundation, NCQA has undertaken a series of projects to develop measures for quality improvement and accountability. But before national measures can be implemented, organizations caring for the dual eligible and LTSS populations must be able to deliver care and services efficiently and to demonstrate their ef­fectiveness through data and quality measures. NCQA’s early work found that many organizations require significant capacity-building to fulfill this requirement.

Putting Accreditation to Work
On June 13, 2017, Aging & In-Home Services of Northeast Indiana, Inc. (AIHS), the AAA for North­east Indiana, became the first CBO to earn NCQA Accreditation of Case Management for LTSS.
 
“We’ve been working in the integrated care space for about four-and-a-half years, and as we look forward, we see the importance of having an accreditation that is recognized by the medical community,” said AIHS President and CEO Connie Benton Wolfe. Wolfe credits LTSS accreditation with making rigorous standards part of the AIHS culture. “Accreditation is not aspirational, it’s es­sential,” she says.
 
“I think that can only strengthen us, because it means that as we’re going through the accredita­tion process, we’re engaging members at all levels of our staff,” she adds.
 
One key area to which AIHS applied LTSS standards was its care transitions process. When a case manager visits a client in his or her home after discharge from a hospital or care facility, AIHS communicates with physicians via an emailed letter. AIHS believes the improved transition com­munication process has made case managers more visible to the medical community and has helped integrate services. Since implementing this policy, there have been several instances in which the emailed letter reported medical changes. For example, a client was unable to communicate with her primary care physician about an issue with her colostomy. The transition letter allowed the physi­cian to respond quickly with treatment options, preventing further complications.
 
The new process also yielded positive outcomes for individuals with dementia. During a visit with her case manager, a client reported that she was becoming more forgetful. The case manager learned that the client was not storing food properly, did not know how to take her medications and had asked her in-home care staff to take her to the store when she was wearing slippers and a robe. After detail­ing this information in the transition letter and emailing it to the client’s physician, the case manager and the physician collaborated to increase the client’s services, schedule follow-up appointments and work with the family caregiver to manage medications.
 
To improve overall care and support people to live optimally within their preferred setting, organizations that co­or­dinate LTSS should implement best prac­­tices for delivering person-centered care planning and effective care transitions, and for measuring quality improvement.
 
“We’re familiarizing our staff with those attributes of person-centered care and the standard­ization that comes with it. It’s not taking us in a new direction, but it brings a new level of structure to our agency that will only make us stronger,” says Benton Wolfe.
 
Jessica Briefer French, M.H.S.A., is assistant vice president, Research, at NCQA in Washington, D.C.
 
Editor’s Note: This article appears in the March/April 2018 issue of Aging Today, ASA’s bi-monthly newspaper covering issues in aging research, practice and policy nationwide. ASA members receive Aging Today as a member benefit; non-members may purchase subscriptions at our online store.