Nursing Home Standards to Get an Upgrade

The federal government will improve and strengthen the standards on the Medicare website that consumers use to research their options when a loved one needs long-term care.

A story published earlier this month by the New York Times, detailed how Nursing Home Compare, the government’s rating program for more than 15,000 U.S. nursing homes, will get an upgrade.

The Times said the rating system has become the gold standard for evaluating nursing homes since it was established five years ago, despite the fact that two of its major rating criteria – staffing levels and quality statistics – are self-reported by the nursing homes, and generally not verified by the federal government. That will change.

As of January, nursing homes will have to report their staffing levels each quarter via an electronic system that can be verified with payroll data. And a national auditing program will focus on whether the so-called quality measures rating (based on information collected about every patient) is accurate.

And in response to the knowledge that nursing homes often use heavy drugs to sedate their patients, the facilities’ ratings will take into consideration the percentage of their residents who are given antipsychotic drugs. These dangerous meds often are given inappropriately. Nursing homes have been reporting the practice – 1 in 5 long-term nursing home residents receives antipsychotic drugs – but it hasn’t figured into how they are rated. (See our blog, “Nursing Homes Escape Oversight, Patients Suffer.”)

The new, verified data will be collected next year, but won’t be reflected in the ratings until 2016.

Better late than never.

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