The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is not known for linguistic playfulness. Nonetheless, at least one person there must have been chuckling when it named its rich new data source for nursing home staffing levels the Payroll-Based Journal, or PBJ.
Like that classic sandwich, the PBJ data set is irresistible. CMS created it to fulfill a requirement of the Affordable Care Act to improve the accuracy of its five-star staffing ratings on Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website. The data set contains payroll records that nursing homes are required to submit to the government.
In April, Medicare began using them to rate staffing for more than 14,000 skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). The PBJ data gives a much better look at the how staffing relates to quality of care than the less precise — and too easy to inflate — staffing data Medicare had been using since 2008, which were based on two-week snapshots of staffing homes provided to inspectors. The data show staffing and occupancy on every day — an unprecedented degree of granularity that allows for new levels of inquiry.
Low staffing is a root cause of many injuries in nursing homes. As I wrote in the article published in The New York Times based on the data: “When nursing homes are short of staff, nurses and aides scramble to deliver meals, ferry bedbound residents to the bathroom and answer calls for pain medication. Essential medical tasks such as repositioning a patient to avert bedsores can be overlooked when workers are overburdened, sometimes leading to avoidable hospitalizations.”