Medicare's Nursing Home Compare Website Supports Informed Decisions

In 1998, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services launched its Nursing Home Compare website to help people get information on nursing homes throughout the U.S. Over the years, several improvements have been made to the site, which now is a central source of relevant, important information to help people choose nursing homes that are safe and good selections for their circumstances.

Medicare's Nursing Home Compare Tool

According to Medicare.gov, the official government website for Medicare, the nursing home compare function is an interactive tool that allows Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers to compare information about more than 17,000 Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes in the U.S. Using the tool helps patients, their families and friends apply information from Medicare's Five-Star Quality Rating System to select a nursing home where residents are likely to receive high-quality care and are less likely to experience problems like nursing home abuse, neglect or other health concerns.

In the first step of the nursing home compare tool, users can search for a nursing home by:

  • Name or part of the name
  • Zip code
  • City
  • State
  • County

Step two lists all of the Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes in that location or with that name. The list is in table form with the following information about the nursing homes:

  • Name and general information
  • Five-Star Quality Rating System overall ratings
  • Health Inspections ratings
  • Nursing Home Staffing ratings
  • Quality Measures ratings
  • Program Participation (Medicare, Medicaid or both)
  • The number of certified beds in the facility
  • The type of ownership

The list can be sorted by any one of these features. From the list, users can select a particular nursing home to get more detailed information about that facility.

Medicare's Five-Star Quality Rating System

Central to the nursing home compare website is the Five-Star Quality Rating System, which resulted from the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1987. The program rates Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes on a scale of one to five stars with five stars as the highest possible score and one star as the lowest possible score. A nursing home's overall rating is a composite of its scores in three areas:

  • Health Inspections
  • Staffing
  • Quality Measures

Health Inspections

Health inspections include evaluation of about 180 specific aspects of patient care in the facility based on regulatory standards set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). During inspections, inspectors evaluate:

  • Resident care
  • How care is administered
  • Staff and resident interactions
  • The nursing home environment, including food safety

Inspectors also check whether the facility meets fire-safety standards set by the National Fire Protection Agency.

Nursing Home Staffing

Certified nursing homes must provide CMS with detailed staffing information about the hours that Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, Licensed Vocational Nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants spend working in the facility. According to Medicare.gov, CMS then converts the staffing hours reported to a measure that shows the average number of staff hours per resident each day. Nursing home understaffing is one of the most common causes of patient neglect.

Quality Measures

A nursing home's Quality Measures rating is based on information routinely collected by the facility and reported to CMS. Medicare.gov reports that 10 aspects of patient care are evaluated, including:

  • Residents' ability to dress and eat
  • Whether they received flu shots
  • Whether they are in pain
  • If they are losing weight
  • Prevention and treatment of skin ulcers or bed sores

The nursing home compare website provides information on nursing homes' Five-Star Quality Rating System rankings in each of these areas as well as information on complaints made by residents, family members and staff, and incident reports made by the facilities themselves.

In addition, the nursing home compare website contains information about filing a complaint with the state about a nursing home, and it also provides a document explaining nursing home residents' rights. Federal law requires nursing homes to provide and protect nursing home residents' rights, including:

  • The right to be treated with dignity and respect
  • The right to be free from abuse, neglect and discrimination
  • The right to participate in activities and make one's own schedule
  • The right to privacy and time spent with visitors
  • The right to be informed in advance about services and fees
  • The right to manage one's own money
  • The right to be informed about medical conditions and treatments as well as the right to refuse medicine or treatments

The information available on the nursing home compare website assists potential nursing home residents and their loved ones in making informed decisions about their future care. If you or a loved one is already in a nursing home, however, and you see signs of possible maltreatment, contact a Pennsylvania personal injury attorney with experience in nursing home cases to discuss your legal options.

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