When Choosing a Nursing Home, Look Beyond Its CMS Star Rating

The Five-Star Quality Rating System was created by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide a quick summary of a nursing home’s overall level of quality.  It is available on the medicare.gov website, and many families use this information when choosing a nursing home.  However, the accuracy of this rating system has come into question following an investigation by The New York Times.

CMS ratings are based on self-reported data from more than 15,000 nursing homes and on-site examinations by state health inspectors.  A particular nursing home’s star rating depends on the results of the inspection, how much time nurses devote to residents, and the quality of care provided to residents.

Unfortunately, The New York Times investigation revealed that nursing homes often submit inaccurate information to make themselves appear cleaner and safer than they actually are.  In addition, staffing levels may be exaggerated, the use of potentially dangerous antipsychotic drugs underreported, and the number of accidents and health problems minimized.  Information submitted by nursing home owners and operators is rarely audited, nursing homes are sometimes tipped off before “impromptu” inspections, and inspectors often minimize violations discovered at top-rated nursing homes. 

In addition, for a host of reasons, staffing at nursing homes is very much in flux right now.  The quality of care currently may not be the same as it was when CMS collected the reporting data.

The bottom line?  While CMS ratings can serve as a starting point in the search for a quality nursing home, you must closely scrutinize every aspect of a given property before making a final decision.  AARP provides a detailed checklist to help you do so.  You can download the checklist here.

We do have good nursing homes here on the South Shore – you need to do your homework to find the one that feels right for you and your loved one.

As for finding ways to pay for long-term care, whether that care is provided in your own home, in assisted living, or at a nursing home, I am always here to help.

Until next time, take care….