Lawsuit Casts Doubt on Government’s Nursing Home Ratings

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Nurse pushing a wheelchair
Minerva Studio /

A lawsuit filed against the largest chain of senior living facilities in the U.S. raises new questions about the reliability of the federal government’s star ratings for long-term care facilities.

California prosecutors have sued Brookdale Senior Living, accusing the company of manipulating the rating system. The lawsuit says Brookdale submitted false information to the Medicare system’s rating program.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) oversees the rating system, which assigns one to five stars to nursing homes across the nation.

The New York Times reports that the ratings have gained enormous influence among customers and that getting a good rating can “mean the difference between a nursing home’s making or losing money.”

However, the system itself relies on data nursing homes submit that is largely unaudited. Such data includes:

  • How much time nurses spend with residents
  • In-person state health inspector examinations

The lawsuit itself comes after a Times investigation that found many nursing homes submit false information to the government. The newspaper says the widespread “sleight-of-hand maneuvering left the industry vulnerable when the coronavirus pandemic hit.”

How to find a good nursing home

So, if you can’t trust the CMS star rating system, how can you find the best nursing home for yourself or a loved one?

It’s tough to beat the testimony of residents themselves. J.D. Power’s latest annual U.S. Senior Living Satisfaction Study found that three providers earn especially high marks from residents and their families. For more, check out “Residents Love These 3 Senior Living Facilities.”

Looking for a second opinion? U.S. News & World Report has been ranking nursing homes since 2009. The publication says that it rates nursing homes in two different areas: short-term rehabilitation and long-term care.

U.S. News says its ratings are focused on staffing, outcomes, resident complaints and processes of care. It also notes that it “does not incorporate any CMS-issued, domain-specific ratings, or the overall rating from the CMS five-star quality rating system.”

Finally, check out two other governmental resources that can help you find the right nursing home facility:

  • The National Institute on Aging offers a guide, “How to Choose a Nursing Home.
  • CMS offers other resources, including a checklist of things to ask and look for when visiting a nursing home, a guide to choosing a nursing home or other long-term support service, and a list of nursing homes with a history of poor care.

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