Choosing a Nursing Home? Don’t Rely on Ratings Alone

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It’s never easy to decide that a loved one needs to be moved to a nursing home. Most people struggle to find a facility that they can trust. The purpose of using this type of facility is to ensure that your loved one receives the care that they are no longer able to effectively provide for themselves, and the last thing anyone wants is to do is inadvertently place their loved one at a greater risk of serious injury or illness due to neglect or abuse by selecting the wrong facility. An added challenge is finding reliable reviews of nursing homes in one’s area that can help you in making your decision.

Several years ago, the federal government sought to change that dilemma when Medicare established a hotel-style rating system. It was intended to provide consumers with some measure of confidence in rated long-term care facilities.

However, a recent analysis in the New York Times suggests that the rating system is not as reliable as it may seem.

Under the Medicare rating system, nursing homes are given stars based on three criteria:

  • Staff levels
  • Quality statistics
  • State inspections.

The problem is that two of those measures – staff size and quality data – are self-reported by the homes. Medicare does not verify them, the Times article notes. As a result, the system could mislead consumers into choosing a home that provides substandard care.

Quality of Care at a Nursing Home Is a Major Concern

When Medicare launched the ratings program in 2009, only 34 percent of the 15,000 rated facilities received four-or-five-star ratings. By 2013, that number had grown to about 50 percent.

Did more nursing homes improve the quality of care they were providing? Unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure, according to the Times.

This is a concern when one considers the safety and health risks that can arise in nursing homes in Georgia and elsewhere across the country.

According to federal statistics, there are 2.1 million cases of reported elder abuse in the country each year. More than 91 percent of nursing homes have been found to have staff shortages, and 36 percent have been found at some point to have violated elder abuse laws.

This is not to say that there are few quality nursing homes. However, it is important for family members to be cautious when using the Medicare ratings – or a single report of any kind – when choosing a facility for their loved one.

What Factors Should Be Considered?

Medicare provides a state-by-state list of nursing homes throughout the country. The list includes data from the ratings system but also information about deficiencies and penalties that may have been levied against a particular facility. It’s worth your while to review this information.

You should also visit the facility you are considering for your loved one and ask:

  • How does the facility smell?
  • What does the food look like?
  • What kind of sounds do you hear around you?
  • Are there staff shortages or turnover?
  • What types of programs are available to residents?

Listen to staff conversations and watch their facial expressions and body language, which could be a clue about behind-the-scenes issues. Also, talk to residents and ask them about their experiences.

If you know someone who has chosen that nursing home, ask them what made them select that facility for their family member.

In other words, don’t rely on a ratings system alone. Go out and do your own on-the-ground investigation before making a decision.

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