WASHINGTON – Federal health officials began posting reports Tuesday on the quality of care in nursing homes nationwide, after what they called a successful six-month test run in Maryland and five other states.
Supporters of the National Nursing Home Quality Initiative said a limited look at the Maryland program showed it was apparently successful in improving the problem areas of nursing homes in the state.
But others said that while the program can help families make informed decisions about placing a family member in a nursing home, the criteria measured by the program are not the be-all, end-all measure that people should use.
“This initiative is very important. It’s a piece of the puzzle but it’s only a piece,” said Carol Benner, director of the state’s Office of Health Care Quality. “You need to look at survey report deficiencies based on state inspections. You need to visit nursing homes and ask questions.”
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have spent $11.5 million on the pilot program in Maryland, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington state. It will spend another $120 million to expand the National Nursing Home Quality Initiative to 17,000 nursing homes nationwide.
The system measures quality of care, for long-term residents and short- term patients, in 10 areas. Consumers will be able to find data on the use of physical restraints, on improvement in residents’ ability to walk and on the percentage of residents experiencing bedsores, dementia, pain and infection.
The data, which has been routinely collected by nursing homes, was made available Tuesday for the first time nationally, by phone at 1-800-Medicare and on Medicare’s consumer Web site, www.medicare.gov.
Maryland residents already had access to annual state nursing home surveys, which state lawmakers required in 2000. The federal pilot program began in Maryland in April of this year.
But some officials say the pilot program has not been in place long enough to measure changes and improvements in nursing homes. And some critics have voiced concern over the accuracy and helpfulness of the data to the average consumer.
“The average information reported is technological and pejorative. It perpetuates fears of what long-term care is about,” said Isabella Firth, President of the Mid-Atlantic Life Span, a Columbia-based organization that represents senior-care providers.
But the Delmarva Foundation, which was contracted by CMS to help a selected group of Maryland nursing homes in the pilot federal project, said the program has had at least some success in the state. The private foundation met with administrators at the homes to identify problem areas and help come up with solutions.
A foundation study, which focused on reducing the rate of bedsores in a select number of nursing homes, claimed great success in educating administrators about prevention and treatment of the sores.
Delmarva plans to work with about 15 percent of the state’s 273 nursing homes in the future and target pain management, spokeswoman Rebecca Reid said.
Some officials argued that the most important part of the program is that it brought state officials, health care providers, industry representatives and the state’s medical society together to talk about quality care — a group that Maryland Department of Aging Ombudsman Frances Stoner called “partners of excellence.”
That movement may ultimately cause a culture shift in the long-term care community, supporters said.
“This initiative is important because, number one, Maryland seniors deserve the very best care and everyone should be working their hardest to get us there,” Firth said. “But, it also marks the first time a collaborative approach tries to combine resources of the public and private sector . . . to do something together.”