Maybe I should blame David Letterman who ingrained the ‘top 10 list’ into our minds on a daily basis? It seems everywhere we turn there’s a listing of the best or worst– restaurants, hotels, microwaves, airlines– and of course nursing homes.
While these lists may be incredibly convenient and even useful in making decisions about where to place a loved one in need of skilled nursing care, as I lawyer who has seen what life is really like in these facilities I am always cringe a little when I see these annual listing of facilities released as I know that seeing (or not seeing) a facility on the list may falsely give a family a sense or relief or fear.
This year’s version of U.S. News & World Report Best Nursing Homes can be accessed here. You can conveniently look up facilities by State or Zip Code to determine the highest rated facilities in your area. After punching in your criteria, the website will give you a listing of facilities in a ranking hierarchy according to factors such as: nursing home safety, health inspections and staffing. Depending on the information available, you can also access recent inspection report and contact information for the facility.
Good rating? Bad Rating? So what?
While this collaboration of information can be incredibly useful, the truth is that much of it is already available from other web resources and the U.S. News version is really little more than re-packaged content. Moreover, as an an advocate for decent care of the elderly, I truly sympathize with families who may literally wake up one morning to realize they are in need of a nursing home for a family member– however, I have some concerns about the applicability of this information to all patients in need of skilled nursing care.
Simply, by looking at a listing of facilities with various star-rankings or symbols following them, there’s a lack of information about what services the facility provides and what type of care that it truly offers. Even a facility with many stars following its designation may be ill-equipped to care for a particular patient. Similarly, a facility that may appear to be seemingly average may be a great place for a patient with specialized needs.
Incentivizing facilties to improve care
I would be foolish to think that there are no positive aspects for consumers when it comes to ranking facilities. I’m sure many facilities make a point of improving their facilities for the purpose of ranking higher on these lists— truly a good thing for consumers. Instilling a sense of competition to rank highly is really positive.
Don’t forget to do your own checking
It’s not that I’m fully against listings quality (or inferior facilities)– but as consumers, families simply can not rely on information provided in a list that likely generated by a computer formula. Rather, the lists such as this can be used as a springboard to locating a facility for a patient. Gather what you can from the website, but never make a decision simply by what is represented to you on a website. Go to the facility. Talk with the staff. Ask questions. Do the natural things you would do as if you were making a significant investment of your resources and time. Just don’t make a decision for your loved ones care as if you were buying a microwave oven.