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U.S. Data on Nursing Homes Are Released

A Web site and phone number provide facts collected from Medicare participants.

November 13, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — People can now get quality indicators on all 17,000 nursing homes in the United States as part of a new government effort that began Tuesday to give families tools to make better decisions for loved ones.

The government Web site www.medicare.gov/ and phone number (800) MEDICARE now have information on such nursing home-related topics as the prevalence of physical restraints at a facility or its percentage of residents with bedsores. Information on deficiencies found during annual inspections and complaint investigations also is available on the site.

The service 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 G. Thompson. "Not only will consumers be better informed, but nursing homes ... 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 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.

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