The federal government began offering information to consumers Tuesday that will help them evaluate the quality of 17,000 nursing homes nationwide, and also provide a rough measure of how California nursing homes stack up against their counterparts nationally.
The information, including scores for nursing homes on 10 measures of quality, is available through Medicare, both on its Internet site and by telephone.
Jo Ellen Ross, president and chief executive officer of California Medical Review Inc., the nonprofit agency that is charged with maintaining the integrity of Medicaid services in California, called the release of the information "groundbreaking." Medicaid has long collected the information but never before made it public, Ross said.
"We as the public have far more information about buying refrigerators than we do when we have to face putting one of our family members in a nursing home," Ross said, "and this is really going to help give some measures of quality that will help make those decisions."
Release of the data is part of an initiative that also involves government-funded training for nursing home personnel. Her company will conduct the training in California, Ross said.
Though Ross praised the program, Patricia McGinnis of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform said she feared it was part of a Bush administration plan to reduce government oversight, and would not give every consumer more choice. Too often, McGinnis said, options are severely limited by finances or the patient's condition.
She also criticized the government for, in effect, subsidizing for-profit nursing homes by providing tax-funded training.
McGinnis said California consumers already have access to a wealth of information about the state's 1,400 nursing homes through a Web site produced by her organization and a newer one launched by the California Health Care Foundation. However, she acknowledged that some information in the federal database is not available elsewhere, and is "wonderful."
Chiefly, the database evaluates nursing homes by 10 criteria, and compares each nursing home to the state and national averages. Those averages also provide a look at how states compare with each other.
The data show that California nursing homes, on average, have slightly fewer residents who complain of pain and fewer with a loss of abilities in basic daily tasks. However, the state fares worse than the national average in the percentage of residents in physical restraints.
The information is available on the Internet at www. medicare.gov (click on "Nursing Home Compare"). Those without Internet access can call 800-MEDICARE (633-4227). The other Web sites that evaluate California nursing homes are www.nursinghomeguide.org and www.calnhs.org.