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Federal Nursing Home Comparison Website May Be Over-Reporting Staffing Levels

Choosing a safe and comfortable nursing home for your loved one can be a difficult choice. Many individuals have relied on the Nursing Home Compare website to evaluate the quality of nursing homes in their area. The site, which is furnished by the federal government, provides visitors with five-star ratings on health inspections, staffing levels, and overall quality for each nursing home. Users can view the total number of licensed nurse staff hours per resident per day for a given nursing home and compare that number to the national average. Staffing levels are a critical metric for individuals choosing a nursing home, because lower levels of individualized attention are a contributing factor in nursing home abuse and neglect.

Recently, however, the Center for Public Integrity released a report contesting the staffing level data reported by the federal Nursing Home Compare site. According to the Center, the staffing levels reported by Nursing Home Compare are less accurate because they are based on self-reported data and annually scheduled site visits. Because the site visits are scheduled, nursing homes could inflate the staffing levels during the site visit and, according to one academic paper analyzing the issue, such inflation does occur systematically.

The Truth about Nursing Home Staffing

Instead, the Center for Public Integrity analyzed actual payroll documents to determine staffing levels. Nursing homes provide annual financial cost reports to the state-federal Medicaid program, and these reports include payroll data that provides an alternate picture of staffing levels. Unlike the Nursing Home Compare site, which provides users with convenient comparison tables, this federal data is harder for individuals to access and analyze.

Significantly, the study found that Nursing Home Compare consistently over-estimates the staffing levels and, therefore, the amount of time each resident receives each day. More than 80% of nursing homes self-reported higher staffing levels to Nursing Home Compare than their payroll records establish, and a quarter of such facilities over-reported their staffing levels by double or more. More than half of the Illinois nursing homes studied by the Center for Public Integrity over-reported their staffing levels.

Numerous peer-reviewed academic studies have demonstrated the strong link between the level of staffing provided and the quality of care, or prevention of abuse and neglect. According to a report recently issued by Families for Better Care, nursing homes in Illinois already rank among the lowest-quality elder care facilities in the nation. Illinois ranked 47th in Direct Care Staffing Hours Per Resident and ranked an “F” grade. This data, notably, was based on the Nursing Home Compare site, and has not been corrected to reflect the over-reporting demonstrated by the Center for Public Integrity.

If you are considering a certain nursing home for a family member, the Center for Public Integrity now provides a tool to compare self-reported and payroll-based staffing level estimates for a given nursing home. If you know someone who has experienced abuse or neglect at a nursing home, inadequate staffing may have played a role. Your experienced Chicago nursing home abuse and neglect attorney can help you ensure that your loved one is provided an adequate level of care.