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Federal Agency’s New Online Tool Rates Nursing Homes

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A new Web site launched by the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services on December 18, 2008 will help consumers evaluate nursing home care. According to this news report in the Bakersfield Californian, the agency will launch a Five Star Quality Rating System on its Nursing Home Compare Web site.

This Web site apparently already provides beneficiaries of Medicare with comparison information on 17,000 nursing homes nationwide. But this new online rating tool will utilize federal data to score each nursing home’s performance and competence in three important areas: health inspections, staffing and quality measures. The best nursing homes will receive a “five-star” rating while the worst nursing homes will receive a “one-star” rating.

This is no doubt a great tool for families that are faced with the situation of placing their loved one in a nursing home or a care facility. I know and understand the dilemma of families that have been through it because I have been through it myself. And for anyone doing some research and looking at the numbers, the results are scary. According to a Government Accountability Office report this year, one in five of the nation’s nursing homes has serious deficiencies. And while this is a wonderful tool for consumers, it concerns me that it is still based on inspections conducted by state officials who, according to the same GAO report, tend to miss a lot of the problems at these nursing homes.

According to this study, nursing homes are typically inspected once a year by state employees working under contract with the federal government, which sets stringent standards. But state employees apparently miss at least one serious deficiency in 15 percent of the inspections, federal officials later found. For example, in nine states, state inspectors routinely missed serious problems in more than 25 percent of the surveys analyzed from 2002 and 2007.

While state health departments have a lot of work to do in terms of improving their inspections of these nursing homes, I believe that this new online rating tool will help in two ways. First, it will help consumers separate the good nursing homes from the bad, which is a great time-saver. Secondly, it is going to put the pressure on nursing homes to improve the quality of their services. If a facility has had a history of nursing home negligence, abuse or is understaffed, I’d bet they will have to improve if they are poorly rated by this online tool.

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