Ohio-piloted nursing home standards go nationwide

CLEVELAND (AP) - The federal government's new system to help elderly and disabled Medicare recipients find good nursing homes went nationwide on Tuesday after a six-month test run in Ohio and five other states.

But advocates for nursing home residents are unsure if the project -- administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) -- is a success.

"It will have some effect, but this initiative is not a substitute for strict enforcement of federal and state nursing home standards," said Donna Lenhoff, executive director of the National Citizen's Coalition for Nursing Home Reform. "And there's no question that enforcement should be improved."

The rating system will give families data on the percentage of residents experiencing pain, bed sores, dementia and infections, the use of physical restraints and improvement in walking. The information is available on the Internet at www.medicare.gov and at (800) MEDICARE.

The CMS spent $11.5 million on the pilot program in Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington state.

Now, the CMS is spending another $120 million to expand the ratings for 17,000 nursing homes throughout the country.

In the primary states, the rating system has been a huge stimulus for nursing homes to improve themselves, said Dr. Barbara Paul, who directs the agency's quality measurement and health assessment group in Washington, D.C.

"Regardless of whether consumers are using this information, providers and clinicians are using it to improve quality in nursing homes," she said.

Over half of the nursing homes in the six states requested assistance to improve their ratings, she said. CMS has hired a quality improvement organization in each state to consult and provide assistance.

But KePRO, the CMS-designated consultant in Ohio, only focused on pain management care. The company could only point to changes in pain management policies at seven of Ohio's 1,000 nursing homes.

Advocates for nursing home residents remain skeptical.

"We have not yet been able to discern any changes directly related to this information," said Richard Martin at the Cleveland long-term Care Ombudsman's Office, which has been distributing more detailed nursing homes information for a decade.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)