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Don’t be misled by “five-star” nursing home ratings

Written by Diane Archer
In the fall of 2014, The New York Times reported that Medicare five-star nursing home ratings do not ensure quality because key data is self-reported.   A new follow-up investigation by Kaiser Health News now confirms that most nursing homes have inadequate staff and have been misrepresenting their staffing levels to Medicare.
In short, much of the information you can find on MedicareCompare about nursing homes is based on self-reported data. Since nursing homes have been misrepresenting their staffing levels to Medicare, the star-ratings Medicare confers based on this data should not be trusted.

Independent assessors are supposed to conduct health inspections each year.  So those results should be reliable.  But, staff levels and quality data are self-reported.

Unfortunately, reliable information that compares the 15,000 nursing homes in America is not yet available. For now, there’s no TripAdvisor or Consumer Reports to give you the full scoop. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that quality differs significantly and to do your homework before choosing a nursing home.

Informed Patient Institute offers the best information on nursing homes and other providers in each state.  It is likely too generous in giving MedicareCompare a B grade, without listing all its shortcomings.  But, where they exist, it tells you about better tools available to you and is worth checking out.

Talk to people in your community about nursing home options. If possible, avoid chain nursing homes. And, check out small nursing homes, Green Houses. Visit the nursing homes a few times before choosing one.  Find out about consumer complaints and whether there have been fines imposed on the nursing home by state agencies.

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