If you find yourself in the predicament of choosing a nursing home for someone you love, you’ll soon discover that the process is complicated, even daunting. We’ve written about this subject before on the AgingOptions blog, but this recent article on MarketWatch provides an updated view of this important topic, so we thought it was a good time to bring it to your attention. The MarketWatch article was written by reporter Meera Jagannathan, who writes that comparing homes online may be a helpful starting point, but there’s a lot more digging that concerned family members will need to do in order to make the best choice.
Comparing Nursing Homes: New Online Feature Alerts Shoppers About Abuse, Neglect
These days, writes MarketWatch, many families shopping for care use the popular Nursing Home Compare website operated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). According to Jagannathan’s article, CMS launched a new feature on the website last October: a distinctive symbol in the form of a white hand within a red circle, intended “to signal that a particular facility had recently been cited for abuse or neglect.” Data about abuse citations was available before, the article explains, but it required digging through health-inspection reports which can also be accessed through the CMS website.
The white hand icon “appears for facilities cited in the past year for abuse that led to harm of a resident,” says MarketWatch, as well as nursing homes cited in each of the past two years for abuse deemed “potentially” harmful. CMS told MarketWatch that the symbol is updated every month to supplement the website’s five-star rating system. About 5 percent of nursing homes – 760 out of nearly 15,300 facilities certified by Medicare and Medicaid – had the abuse symbol affixed to their record on the CMS website in a recent month, according to published reports.
Comparing Nursing Homes: New “Abuse Icon” Puts CMS, Industry At Odds
CMS administrator Seema Verma told MarketWatch that the symbol is intended both to guide consumers and to put facilities on notice. “Our new abuse icon helps patients make the best choices for their care, incentivizing nursing homes to compete on quality,” she said. “While fewer than 5 percent of the more than 15,000 nursing homes participating in Medicare and Medicaid will be subject to the icon, CMS nevertheless urges all providers to focus on preventing abuse.” Another long-term care advocate said she thought the new icon would be “startling enough to get people’s attention” while encouraging nursing home operators to work harder to prevent abuse and neglect, which she called “persistent and pervasive.”
But the nursing home industry is not pleased. Two of the largest trade groups, the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and LeadingAge, “argued that the icon gave the wrong impression,” said MarketWatch. The ominous symbol “urges consumers to avoid a facility altogether rather than investigate it further,” and also having the icon plastered on the CMS website “[doesn’t] account for facilities having taken corrective action after a citation.” Leaders of the two trade groups warned that presence of the icon doesn’t really help consumers and fails to tell the whole story, potentially creating “unnecessary worry” and restricting access to care, MarketWatch reported.
Comparing Nursing Homes: No Substitute for an In-Person Assessment
“If you’re looking for a nursing home for a parent, grandparent or other loved one, you might be preoccupied with any number of safety concerns: abuse and neglect, falls, infection or even unnecessary use of antipsychotic medication,” writes Jagannathan in her MarketWatch article. “But experts say there are steps you can take to help minimize risk,” most of which require in-person investigation. She includes a long list of helpful ideas for which we lack the space, but here are a few highlights:
- Check Nursing Home Compare, but seek additional context. “While the database can help narrow down possibilities, there are lots of other factors to take into consideration,” one expert told There’s no substitute for first-hand knowledge.
- Visit the facility — and not just during its optimal moments. Your first visit might be a tour with an admissions representative, but then you’ll want to return on your own to get a more realistic picture. MarketWatch advises visiting during off-hours. “Late morning on Saturday or Sunday will give you a sense of a facility’s ‘weakest point’ in terms of staffing,” one insider suggests. When visiting on your own, observe how staff and residents interact. See what the atmosphere is like at mealtimes. And, says the article, use your nose: offensive or stale odors may indicate a lack of attentive care.
- Meet with the right people. MarketWatch advises sitting down with the nursing-home administrator and director of nursing, the two leaders most responsible for the facility’s culture of care. You should also consult with the nursing home’s Family Council. This group of resident and family volunteers advocates for residents and acts as an ombudsman for handling concerns. Find out who the leaders are and seek them out.
- To the extent possible, start your research in advance. “If you have a loved one who is declining, and you are concerned that in the future they’re going to need nursing-home care, now’s the time to be looking — not when they’re in the hospital and you have to make a decision in 24 hours,” one housing insider told Great advice.
- Staffing is everything. The MarketWatch report ends with this important point: “Don’t be seduced by bells and whistles.” One senior housing expert put it bluntly. “For someone living in those four walls, the only thing that matters is the quality of the staff that’s taking care of them — period,” she said. “The beautiful landscaping outside your window doesn’t matter if there’s nobody to help you pee in a timely fashion, and with dignity and compassion.” Now, there’s a true statement.
Get the Right Advice When You Plan For Your Future
Retirement planning has to be multi-faceted in order to be effective. That’s one of our axioms here at AgingOptions, and it’s reflected in our strategy called LifePlanning. Your health, your money, your family, your legal affairs, your choice of where and how to live – each is intertwined with the others, and that seamless connection must be part of any retirement plan that’s truly secure. We invite you to bring your retirement planning questions and join Rajiv Nagaich at one of his information-packed (and absolutely free) LifePlanning Seminars. Our calendar of upcoming events and locations is being continually updated, so visit our Live Events page and register for the date and time that works for you.
Whether you’re evaluating a nursing home or planning your retirement, it’s essential that you do your homework – and we’re here to help. Age on!
(originally reported at www.marketwatch.com)