J Appl Gerontol. 2021 Jul 22:7334648211033417. doi: 10.1177/07334648211033417. Online ahead of print.
Therapy staffing declined in response to Medicare payment policy that removes incentives for intensive physical and occupational therapy in skilled nursing facilities, with therapy assistant staffing more impacted than therapist staffing. However, it is unknown whether therapy assistant staffing is associated with patient outcomes. Using 2017 national data, we examined associations between therapy assistant staffing and three outcomes: patient functional improvement, community discharge, and hospital readmissions, controlling for therapy intensity and facility characteristics. Assistant staffing was not associated with functional improvement. Compared with employing no assistants, staffing 25% to 75% occupational therapy assistants and 25% to 50% physical therapist assistants were associated with more community discharges. Higher occupational therapy assistant staffing was associated with higher readmissions. Higher intensity physical therapy was associated with better quality across outcomes. Skilled nursing facilities seeking to maximize profit while maintaining quality may be successful by choosing to employ more physical therapy assistants rather than sacrificing physical therapy intensity.
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