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Prepared by: Gayle Doll is director of Kansas State University's Center on Aging and can be contacted at 785-532-5945 or gdoll@k-state.edu.

Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009

OPINION: GOVERNMENT'S FIVE-STAR RATING SYSTEM DOESN'T TELL THE WHOLE STORY ABOUT NURSING HOME QUALITY

MANHATTAN -- Experts at the Kansas State University Center on Aging have been studying exemplary nursing homes in Kansas for more than seven years. We are disappointed with the new government five-star rating system for nursing homes because we think it leaves out an important element: do residents like living there?

The new system is heavily weighted toward nursing home performances on state inspections and quality measures. Many homes have learned that it is possible to do well on these assessments by keeping residents "safe." But all too frequently this safety comes by stripping residents of their autonomy and independence.

The homes in Kansas that we would want to live in are the innovative places that continue to strive to create environments that retain homelike qualities. Of course these innovative homes keep safety at the forefront. But they may sometimes get survey deficiencies as the regulatory community adjusts to their new ideas.

Consumers could use a number of resources for choosing long-term care. This includes the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Web site, http://www.cms.hhs.gov

Consumers should also use other Internet resources and their local Area Agency on Aging.

We think a better way to evaluate nursing homes might be to visit a nursing home before breakfast. If it is 8 a.m. and some residents are still sleeping, that's a good sign. It means that the nurses and the dietary department don't demand that everyone be dressed and ready to eat at the same time. You've found a home that puts residents first.

That's a place where we would want to live.