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New Help in Evaluating Nursing Homes

When 84-year-old John DeBias’ health began declining a few years ago, he was forced to abandon his condo in Florida and return to Carpentersville, Illinois, to live with his daughter. However, five months ago, John broke his leg and then suffered a heart attack during surgery and, as he continued to get worse, living with his daughter, Karen, a single working mother, became impossible since she simply did not have the time to devote to her ailing father and in-house health care was not enough. It was then that John was forced to move into a nursing home. Since January, John has lived in multiple Illinois nursing homes. He is finally in one that works for the family, but getting there was difficult. Most of the nursing homes put a good show on for the residents’ families, but care ends up being inadequate and seniors are left to fend for themselves more than they are able. A stint in one nursing home left John with weight loss of 13 pounds in two weeks, urinary tract and yeast infections, a shoulder injury from being pushed and pulled around, dehydration and malnutrition, and pressure sores.

Unfortunately, this is not a unique story for nursing home residents. In 2003, nation-wide state Long Term Care Ombudsmen programs collectively investigated 20,673 complaints against nursing homes and board and care residents. The Nursing Home Transparency and Improvement Act of 2008 is aimed at improving consumer knowledge about the quality of nursing homes. Some ways the Act is achieving that goal is by: (1) posting nursing home ownership details, a standard complaint form, and links to inspection reports on www.medicare.gov; (2) increasing the maximum fines from $10,000 to $100,000 for any nursing home deficiency that results in a death; and (3) independently auditing nursing home chains, allowing closer watching of chains that have failed to comply in the past. In addition, separate from the legislation, there will be a website by the end of the year that evaluates nursing homes on a five-star rating system.

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