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Nursing home chiefs wary of Internet site

February 11, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

People shopping for a nursing home have a new information-age tool to help them in their searches, but some nursing administrators have expressed concern that the Internet site might be confusing and misleading.

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The Health Care Financing Administration, the federal agency that regulates nursing homes, has posted information about every licensed facility in the U.S.

The site, Nursing Home Compare - www.medicare.gov/nursing/home.asp - contains information about choosing a nursing home. Users can find information about a specific nursing home or scan facilities in their state and county.

The Web site includes facts about the facility, including type of ownership and size and the date of its last inspection. Results of the inspection also are detailed.

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HCFA posted the information last fall but the agency has not officially launched the site.

"We continue to make improvements. We're still in the process of testing it," said HCFA spokesman Craig Palosky. "We're working to make the language more understandable to users."

Palosky said the agency wants people to check out the site and welcomes feedback.

Some Tri-State area nursing home administrators, however, said the site has some flaws.

E. Thomas Sterling, the administrator of Avalon Manor Health Care Center near Hagerstown, faulted the Web site for its vagueness. It prints the regulation that inspectors cite on their reports, but does not explain the incident that prompted the citation or give context, he said.

Sterling said it can be difficult for Internet users who do not have a health care background to decipher the information.

"They don't get the full picture," he said.

Although the HCFA site may be a good starting point for people searching for a nursing home, Sterling said it is important not to stop there.

"There is nothing that is a substitute for physically going to the facility," he said.

Peter E. Perini, vice president of Magnolia Management Inc., which owns Avalon Manor and a nursing home in Shippensburg, Pa., said in a statement he favors educated consumers. But he said he is concerned that the Web site does not include information from follow-up inspection visits.

"The current system paints a negative picture of quality nursing homes and the health-care industry as a whole," he said. "Unfortunately, all the consumers see are the negative findings of the state surveyors and no positives."

Some nursing home administrators, however, said they welcome the site as a tool for people to research institutions.

Christopher Bailey, the administrator of Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Chambersburg, Pa., agreed the information in the report is vague.

"It concerns me, but we're all measured under the same guidelines," he said. "I guess I don't make any excuses for the industry. If you earned it, you got it."

The information on the Web site comes from inspections conducted by state health agencies. Nursing homes are inspected about every nine to 15 months.

Bailey said inspection agencies have done a better job in recent years of making their reports uniform so facilities in different parts of the state receive the same treatment.

He said he believed the major flaw with the Web site is its timeliness.

Falling Spring, a Franklin County-owned nursing home, was inspected last July. But since inspectors have six months to file their reports, it didn't show up on the Web site until January.

"It was old information," Bailey said.

Drew LeRoy, the administrator of Care Haven Center in Charles Town, W.Va., said all of the information on the site has been public information for years. He said it is much easier to get facts sitting at a computer terminal, though.

"It is certainly the era of the informed consumer," he said.

LeRoy called the site a "good starting point," but cautioned consumers to do more research.

"It's only giving the tag from federal law, which is very, very general," he said.

Ernest Angell, president of Homewood Retirement Center in Williamsport, said he thinks the nursing home site is useful. But he said a facility should be measured by more than its inspection reports.

"I think it is difficult. What that survey does is give you a snapshot of the four days the inspectors were here," he said. "That's not necessarily the most accurate tool to compare nursing homes."

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