Five months after a scathing report found that injuries, serious medical conditions and even deaths of those with developmental disabilities living in group homes often go overlooked, federal officials are responding.

In a four-page informational bulletin issued this week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Center for Medicaid & CHIP Services said that it “takes the health and welfare of individuals receiving Medicaid-funded Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) very seriously.”

The agency described its new bulletin as the first in a series of guidance documents it plans to issue in response to a January joint report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, Administration on Community Living and Office for Civil Rights.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

That report found that state officials often weren’t told of or failed to respond to deaths and serious injuries like head lacerations at group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

The findings were based on an audit of emergency room visits from group home residents in a handful of states, but investigators said that media reports from across the country suggested the problems were widespread.

Ultimately, the report recommended that states adopt model practices for better oversight and that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services establish a “SWAT” team to address problems.

The bulletin released this week from federal Medicaid officials does not appear to set out any new policies, but seeks to clarify the federal government’s existing position in light of the recommendations in the January report.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is urging states to adopt a more standardized definition of what qualifies as a “critical incident,” or situations that warrant reporting. Currently the definition varies across the country and even from program to program within states, the agency said.

“CMS strongly encourages states to define critical incidents to, at a minimum, include unexpected deaths and broadly defined allegations of physical, psychological, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse, neglect and exploitation,” the bulletin states.

In addition, federal officials said that states should familiarize themselves with the model practices outlined in the joint report and conduct audits of their incident management systems to ensure that all cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation are being reported, whether or not they involve a hospital visit.

Enhanced federal matching funds may be available to help states implement the model practices, the bulletin noted.