Grassley urges feds to find a way to make hospital accreditation reports public

Chuck Grassley speaking
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is pushing for hospital inspection reports to be made public in the wake of a recent Wall Street Journal investigation that found the accreditor often failed to revoke a hospital's accreditation even when it discovers serious safety violations. (Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, is pushing the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to look into what it would take to force hospital accrediting agencies to publicly disclose their inspection reports.

In his letter (PDF) to CMS, Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked about what statutory changes would be necessary to require accreditors to make their inspection reports public. His letter was sent in the wake of a recent Wall Street Journal report that revealed the Joint Commission often fails to revoke accreditation even when it discovers serious patient safety violations.

RELATED: Investigation: Joint Commission rarely revokes accreditation from hospitals that put patients at risk

CMS actually proposed a similar regulation in April but withdrew it last month because federal law prohibits the agency from publicly disclosing the results of the accreditation inspection reports. Although the proposal required accreditors to release the reports, CMS didn’t want it to appear as if it was “attempting to circumvent” the law.

In his letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verna, Grassley brought up the Wall Street Journal report that gave examples of the Joint Commission’s failure to hold hospitals accountable for safety violations.

“The Joint Commission appears to be unable to aggressively enforce the necessary standards on all facilities," he wrote, noting that the newspaper reported 30 incidents in which hospitals retained their full accreditation even though CMS deemed the violations so significant they were likely to cause a risk of serious patient injury or death.

RELATED: Accreditors can keep their hospital inspection reports secret, feds decide

“Making facility inspections reports public may go a long way to providing the necessary additional information for patients and their families to make informed decisions about where to seek care,” he wrote.

Grassley asked for a CMS response by Oct. 2.  

Joint Commission spokeswoman Elizabeth Eaken Zhani told FierceHealthcare on Wednesday that the accreditor ”steadfastly supports putting valid, useful data on quality of care in the hands of the public” and has been doing just that for more than 20 years.

“We and others continue to support dialogue between government and federal stakeholders and accreditation organizations to identify a more effective strategy for educating the public while ensuring necessary confidentiality for healthcare quality improvement,” she said. “This balance between disclosure and confidentiality is a foundation of accreditation and quality improvement not only in healthcare but in nearly all other industries.”