Watch List For Nursing Homes

For the past week, the CBS Evening News and The Early Show have uncovered some of the ways people get ripped off in a series called "Taking Advantage."

The final part of the collaboration investigates nursing homes.

In our ongoing look at certain industries that give consumers far less than they pay for, CBS News correspondent Vince Gonzales interviewed several people victimized by one of the largest and most profitable nursing home chains in the country.

On The Saturday Early Show, Trudy Lieberman, Director of the Center for Consumer Health Choices at Consumer Union, explained the pervasiveness of the problem using the Consumer Union's recently released "Watch List." Lieberman, who is the author of "Consumer Reports Complete Guide to Health Services for Seniors," also offered information about how to find a safe and affordable nursing home.

Lieberman says there are significant problems with the quality of the nursing care industry. At any given time, any nursing home can have a problem – at both not-for-profit and for-profit homes. Her advice is to do some research to try and find your best option.

There are numerous facilities that have re-occurring problems. There were at least 200 on the Consumer Union's "Watch List" that had a pattern of problems called the "yo-yo" effect. They clean up and go bad and clean up again.

Lieberman says a consumer should look for the state inspection report (CMS-2567) for nursing homes. It is the law that it be posted conspicuously at the nursing home. If it is not posted, Lieberman says that should raise a red flag.

You should review several inspection reports from several years to see how consistent their record is. Also, contact the long-term care ombudsman. Every state has one. Start by calling the Eldercare locator: 800-677-1116, which will give you a list of ombudsmen in your local area and/or a local agency on aging, who can provide a list of nursing homes.

Lieberman's advice is to make as many tours of a nursing home as possible, and check the Consumers Union watch list.

The most common violations and quality concerns found by the Consumers Union were:

  • Failure to post state survey
  • Deficiencies on calling doctors
  • Cleanliness

    Lieberman says if a loved one is in a nursing home on the Consumers Union's "Watch List," the consumer should be extra vigilant about the care. She doesn't advocates moving the elderly, however, because that can be hard on the loved one.

    Most nursing homes have a family council and residents council, says Lieberman, so report problems to them. If that doesn't work, call local ombudsmen and the state.

    Also, she says residents need care plans and the family needs to be present when the care plan is designed and they also need to make sure it is maintained properly.

    Lieberman recommends the following when searching for the right nursing home:

  • If possible, investigate nursing homes long before your relative needs one.
  • Obtain state surveys and read them carefully.
  • Contact the local ombudsman.
  • Use the Consumer Reports Updated Nursing Home "Watch List" to help you select a nursing home.
  • Tour a nursing home several times at different times of the day, and make notes about what you observe.
  • Have a frank discussion with the administrator. Make him or her explain poor survey results and troublesome areas you find during your unannounced visits.
  • Talk to residents. Ask them what life is like inside the facility. Ask how the facility treats them.
  • Be sure to find out how much extra services, supplies, and medications will cost.
  • Once your relative becomes a resident, involve yourself in the initial care plan and attend monthly care plan meetings. Speak up when care is poor or even mediocre. Praise the staff when care is good.
  • Don't be shy about involving the ombudsman if you have a problem. Third-party intervention is sometimes helpful.
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