Can You Trust the Ratings?

Posted on Thursday, April 8th, 2021 at 9:44 am    

The COVID-19 pandemic practically shut the world down. Even though no one was venturing out to visit prospective nursing home facilities, important decisions about medical care and elderly family member’s safety still had to be made. As they couldn’t tour nursing home facilities in person, families did the next best thing. They turned to the internet.

From Yelp to Google, platforms have developed rating systems to let customers rank everything from food service to shopping malls. This, in turn, lets others know what to expect: good food, bad service, fun atmosphere, the works.

The U.S government took a page from this playbook and did much the same thing. Using a star rating system, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rates nursing home facilities so that people can compare nursing homes online. This rating system has become a handy tool for families unable to inspect facilities in person during the pandemic. But can you trust the ratings?

A report released by the New York Times in March 2021 calls into question the accuracy of this rating system. What they found may disturb you.

The rating system is created by giving nursing homes scores based on on-site inspections by state health inspectors. These inspections, plus data on how much time nurses spend with residents and the quality of care that residents receive, are combined to generate an overall rating. Here’s the rub: much of the data that goes into generating this rating is self-reported by the nursing homes. How trustworthy can this self-reported data be? Nursing homes know that a poor rating could damage their financial profitability.

According to research by the New York Times, most of this self-reported data is incorrect and is skewed to make the facility seem cleaner and safer than it really is. Another good indicator that the data and rating system are inaccurate is that once the COVID-19 epidemic hit, nursing home residents in a five-star facility were just as likely to die from COVID as those in one-star-rated homes. The rating system appears to mask deep-seated problems in America’s nursing homes like abuse, neglect, poor sanitary conditions, and poor infection control protocols.

In addition to pointing out unaudited data, unreported serious falls, and exaggerating or falsifying nursing hours and staff shortages, the New York Times report also highlighted serious problems occurring in Kentucky nursing homes that utilize the rating system.

Through the government’s rating website, Carrie Johnson’s family members found what they thought would be the perfect, caring environment for their loved one. Unfortunately, after being sent to live at the Kentucky nursing home, Ms. Johnson endured nothing short of abuse and neglect. Her surgical wound was left untreated, ripe for infection. She was made to lie in her own urine and feces without assistance from staff and would go days without pain medication even after serious spinal surgery. Records from the home where Ms. Johnson stayed indicate that each resident received 75 minutes of daily care from nurses. In reality, the number was less than 30 minutes per day, per patient.

When the COVID-19 virus occurred, many of these “highly rated” nursing homes were simply unprepared to handle the depth of the pandemic. Because the star-rating system fails to correctly rate and audit its information for accuracy, it failed the people who relied upon it for information during a time of crisis. Family members placed their trust in this broken system and found that a five-star rating is about as worthless as a $200 bill.

“Highly rated” doesn’t always mean “high quality.” If your family member is currently a nursing home resident and you suspect that abuse or neglect may be taking place, contact the legal team at Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP for help. We can thoroughly review your loved one’s situation and investigate claims of abuse. Negligent nursing homes and their caregivers must be held accountable, especially now. Please contact us at (859) 550-2900 to speak with an experienced attorney today.

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