Los Angeles County supervisors have asked state officials to require California’s nursing homes to prominently post their new federal star ratings, just the way Los Angeles County restaurants display their letter grades. According to this news report in the Los Angeles Times, this proposal is not being supported by patient advocates and nursing home officials, who say that the new federal five-star rating is flawed because it overlooks significant violations and sometimes, even penalizes well-run nursing homes.
California apparently has 1,254 federally rated nursing homes, more than any other state. Out of those, 272 nursing homes received the “one-star rating,” which is the lowest and 148 received five stars, the highest rating. Los Angeles County supervisors have unanimously voted to ask Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state health department officials to support their plan. The proposal also states that nursing homes that receive Medicare and Medi-Cal should display information about their federal rating in any admissions agreements for new patients. Supervisors also voted to link Los Angeles County’s Web site to the federal rating site, Nursing Home Compare.
The ratings were first issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in December after patients and advocates complained that information about nursing homes on their Web site was far from user-friendly. The ratings were based on three years of data gleaned from state inspections and reports provided by nursing homes. The facilities are rated based on, among others, how the nursing home responds to residents’ declining mobility, high-risk bedsores and pain.
But nursing home officials fault the ratings for depending too much on outdated information and not taking into account factors such as bankruptcies and new ownership. Patient advocates say the ratings rely too heavily on reports from nursing home staffers, who are naturally motivated to make their employer look good.
Before requiring these ratings to be prominently displayed outside nursing homes, county officials should look into how reliable these ratings are. This five-star system was unveiled barely a month ago and it is unclear how it works and how trustworthy it is. County supervisors should listen to what patient advocates have to say because they are the people who interact closely with nursing home residents and their families. They meet victims of nursing home abuse and nursing home negligence on a regular basis. This rating system, if faulty, could tragically mislead numerous nursing home residents and their families.