Nursing home data goes online

Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska's nursing homes generally compare favorably to those in other states, according to federal data released Tuesday.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Tuesday that it is posting up to 10 measures of quality for individual nursing homes online to help people select a home and to encourage homes to improve. The information comes from the homes themselves in reports to the federal government.

''Our real target is consumers, so that people who are having to make a decision about putting a loved one in a nursing home will have an additional tool,'' said Pam Negri, a spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

This information is just a starting point, Negri and others said. For a measure like pain, for instance, a lower number is generally considered better. But residents at one home may prefer not to take pain medicine. Another home might do a particularly good job of checking residents for pain, resulting in a higher mark.

For nursing home residents, who often are recovering from surgery or are otherwise very ill, not all pain can be eliminated. The federal report is intended to give an indication of how well is each facility is managing the problem.

At Alaska's biggest nursing home, Providence Extended Care Center, 13 percent of the long-term residents experience pain. At Heritage Place nursing home in Soldotna, it's 23 percent, and at Wildflower Court in Juneau, it's 31 percent.

The quality measures should at least provide a basis for questions, said Ron Cowan, Alaska's long-term care ombudsman.

''People will be able to look at any given nursing home, and among other things compare rates of having a particular problem with rates in other nursing homes whether in Alaska or the Lower 48,'' Cowan said.

Of Alaska's 15 nursing homes, seven have at least some quality measures listed. The others don't have enough patients to produce statistically valid results, Negri said.

Providence Extended Care used restraints on just 3 percent of long-stay residents, those expected to stay for months or years because they no longer can care for themselves, the federal snapshot showed. That is compared with 10 percent nationally.

''I think it's important for people when they are considering a nursing home to have all the information they can get their hands on,'' said Providence Extended Care administrator Ron Bergstrom. ''It will be most helpful if people combine it with a personal visit. I wouldn't use it as an isolated item.''

For instance, residents rarely acquire pressure sores at the home, but may come there already suffering with them, and then are treated, he said.

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