November 12, 2002
By JANELLE CARTER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - People can now get quality indicators on all 17,000 nursing homes in the United States, a new government effort to give families tools to make better decisions for loved ones.
Beginning Tuesday, consumers could go to the government Web site or call 1-800-MEDICARE for information on such topics involving nursing homes as the prevalence of physical restraints at a facility or its percentage of residents with bed sores. Information on deficiencies found during annual inspections and complaint investigations is also being made available.
The program is an expansion of a pilot program that began this year in Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington state.
"This is a new approach to bringing about better quality care in our nation's nursing homes," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. "Not only will consumers be better informed, but nursing homes themselves will be able to see more clearly what they must do to make the quality grade."
Donna Lenhoff, executive director of the National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, called the program "extremely important."
"It means that consumers will be able to find out more information, and they will be alerted to some of the questions they need to ask about nursing homes," Lenhoff said.
She and others cautioned, however, that the information should not be the sole resource when choosing a nursing home. Visiting the facility, talking to residents and getting information from the long-term care ombudsmen's office in each state are still recommended.
"Consumers should take the time to investigate thoroughly," said James Parkel, president of AARP, the nation's largest lobbying group for older people. "Nursing home residents are the most vulnerable of all older Americans. We have a duty ... to promote their quality of life."
All the information provided by Medicare is based on data that nursing homes must collect from residents routinely as part of their participation in the federal Medicare program. Besides providing consumers useful information, government officials are hoping that the new availability of information will prompt owners to improve their facilities.
Homes that want to step up performance levels can get help from quality improvement organizations, based in each state, under contract with Medicare. "They're basically a government paid consultant," said Medicare administrator Tom Scully.
For instance, in Colorado, about 50 of 225 facilities sought help from the quality improvement organizations, officials there said.
Clear Creek Care Center in Westminster, Colo., sent six nursing home employees once a month to a half-day workshop with improvement experts. There, they were taught what they could do to identify and care for residents in pain better. The result was that the percentage of Clear Creek residents who reported experiencing pain has dropped from 19 percent in April to 5 percent currently, officials said.
"We can really say now in our facility that all staff is aware of our philosophy about pain," nursing home administrator Beth Irtz said.