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Analysis of Self-Reported Nursing Home Data Sounds Alarm Bells

Adverse patient outcomes at nursing homes in Missouri and nationally can cover a lot of territory.

Bedsores — often referred to as pressure ulcers — are not an uncommon occurrence at nursing facilities. Stories from across the country chronicle with some regularity episodes of patient malnutrition and dehydration. Medication errors are an obvious source of concern in the industry. So, too, are facility-acquired infections. Sadly, media exposes sometimes reveal acts of physical, emotional and sexual abuse aimed at patients.

Just as the scope of potential problems in nursing homes is wide ranging, so, too, are the sources that centrally contribute to patient injuries. Bad management and unmotivated workers can foster an unhealthy environment for patients. Inadequately trained employees are an obvious concern.

And a lack of sufficient staffing — that is, qualified, well-rested and motivated workers — on hand to provide quality medical care can bring about especially egregious consequences.

A website called Nursing Home Compare supplies consumers with homes’ self-reported data on staffing numbers. A recent analysis of nursing home staffing information on the site and attendant comparison of information available elsewhere leads the nonprofit investigatory group Center for Public Integrity to a conclusion that the information supplied to Compare is often skewed artificially upward and should not be relied upon.

In fact, the center asserts this: Thousands of homes across the country are purposefully distorting numbers in a manner that seeks to fool consumers about staffing levels that simply do not exist.

That is obviously both morally and legally wrong. Moreover, it brings a clear potential for a family relying in good faith on a home’s false assertions to ultimately confront nursing home negligence brought about by inadequate staffing rather than the high quality of care reasonably expected.

Federal law that requires a transition from homes’ self-reported data to payroll information supplied to government authorities that contains verifiable staffing data has been delayed in its implementation.

Until the goal of that law gains solid traction and enables consumers to see data that they can confidently act upon, families with loved ones who require full-time nursing care outside the home will have to fully ensure that they proceed with all due caution when selecting a nursing home.