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Six Month Check-Up: “Nursing Home Compare” Under The Microscope

July 21, 2009

As Congress debates health care reform that includes how to help seniors pay for nursing home care, either through a continuation of Medicaid or other programs, one aspect of the nursing home selection process under scrutiny is a government online review tool that many people don’t even know exists. A ratings system, available at http://www.medicare.gov/NHCompare/ allows user to review five-star quality ratings, health inspection results, nursing home staff data, quality measures and fire safety inspection results for facilities they are considering. In operation since December 2008, the system itself is undergoing a review. Nursing homes say the information doesn’t give an accurate picture of the amount and kind of care in each facility. A leading consumer group wants the site to provide more details about inspection results and quality-of-care measures. Consumer advocates and industry representatives are calling for changes in the way the ratings assess staffing, which all sides agree is the best indicator of quality of care. To improve the site, user surveys will be initiated in the near future. What does all this mean for you if you’re in the middle of a search? Use the site as a guide to narrow down choices and then continue with your own investigation, emphasizing what you find during actual visits to the facilities under consideration.