In an effort to curb nursing home abuse, the agency that oversees every Medicare and Medicaid-certified facility in the country is introducing a new tool designed to increase transparency.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the important change, which will be implemented on its Nursing Home Compare website.
Beginning on Oct. 23, as patients and their families browse the website, a new consumer alert icon will appear next to nursing homes that have been cited for incidents of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
The move is part of a larger CMS strategy to improve the safety and quality of care in nursing homes. “With today’s action,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement about the new nursing home abuse alert icon, the agency “is putting critical information at consumers’ fingertips, empowering them and incentivizing nursing homes to compete on cost and quality.”
Across the country, patients and families continue to experience the nightmare scenario where a loved one is injured or killed because of nursing home abuse. Such facilities are designed to care for vulnerable individuals — and yet in practice, many nursing homes fail to deliver, putting those in their care in jeopardy.
No one would willingly commit an aging family member to a nursing home with a bad reputation. If the new alert icon works as intended, it should help protect residents and promote better behavior from troubled facilities.
Understanding the New Nursing Home Compare Abuse Icon
The Nursing Home Compare tool is one of the few ways that patients and their families can find out about the quality of the nursing homes in their area. Using a 5-star system, the website gives an overall rating for each facility, along with ratings for health inspections, staffing, and quality measures.
As simple and intuitive as the system is, however, consumers had no easy way to learn about past abuse citations. Finding this information required consumers to sift through health inspection reports, which were on Nursing Home Compare but not easily accessible.
With the new alert icon, nursing homes with recent incidents of abuse, neglect, and exploitation will be clearly flagged.
The “do not proceed” icon will appear next to nursing homes that have been cited for inspection reports with:
- abuse that led to the harm of a resident within the past year
- abuse that could have potentially led to the harm of a resident in each of the last 2 years.
The icons will be updated monthly in concert with the most recent CMS inspections. Previously, CMS had updated consumers every quarter, which kept families in the dark about recent incidents at nursing homes they were considering.
“Through today’s action,” the agency said, “CMS is minimizing the steps, making it easier than ever for patients, residents, and their families and caregivers to quickly identify nursing homes with past citations for abuse.”
Nursing homes have the opportunity to turn their behavior around. If the most recent inspections “indicate they have remedied the issues that caused the citations for abuse or potential for abuse,” the alert icon will be removed.
Reforming Nursing Home Behavior Long-Term
Despite growing demand in a booming industry, private, public, and VA nursing homes have struggled to keep their residents safe. The new alert icon may serve as an informative tool for consumers and a powerful message to nursing homeowners, but it is not a silver bullet.
From the perspective of CMS, getting consumers the most honest and accurate information is only part of the battle. Earlier this year, the agency announced the “five pillars” of its plan to ensure safety and quality in America’s nursing homes.
The five pillars are:
- Strengthen Oversight
- Enhance Enforcement
- Increase Transparency
- Improve Quality
- Put Patients Over Paperwork
In each of these areas, CMS has a lot of work to do. For example, there are few systems in place to prevent a nursing home employee fired for abuse from being rehired somewhere else. The damage caused repeat offenders who abuse, neglect, or sexually assault nursing home residents is completely unacceptable.
Federal oversight and enforcement only go so far — CMS can’t be in the room with patients every hour. Neither can family members. For nursing homes to work at all, they need to be trusted. When they break that trust, the consequences are often immediate and unthinkable.
Nursing Home Lawsuits Protect Families
Ideally, the increased transparency provided by the alert icon will force troubled nursing homes to get on the right track. It’s not going to happen overnight, though, and people are still getting sick and hurt in places they expect to receive care.
If someone you care about is suffering in a nursing home, don’t wait another minute to speak with a nursing home abuse attorney who understands your legal rights.