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Medicare's Nursing Home 5-Star Rating System Ignores Some Of Worst Violations, Report Says

Black and white portrait of a senior man lost in the darkness. Covering his eyes with his hands

For years, people have trusted the federal Care Compare five-star rating system to provide unbiased, honest information about the quality of nursing-home owners and facilities.

That trust may have been misplaced.

An in-depth, nationwide investigation is raising questions about the accuracy of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) "5-star" rating system.

By using a secretive appeals process, nursing homes are effectively hiding their worst instances of abuse and safety violations, according to a New York Times investigation. Journalists found case after case of shocking nursing home abuse that had been identified by state inspectors, but never publicly reported.

Tarnished Gold Standard?

Cases uncovered include a resident who was sexually assaulted in an Arizona nursing home dining room, a Minnesota woman who caught COVID-19 after workers moved a coughing resident into her room, and a Texas dementia patient found in the facility's parking lot lying in a pool of blood.

For many people, the CMS rating system, which is available on the federal Care Compare website, is a major factor in determining the best nursing home facility for their loved ones. It rates facilities on a scale of 1-5 stars (5 is the best) based on regular, multiday state-run investigations, treatment outcome histories, resident quality services surveys, budgets, violations, and other data.

Care Compare was the gold standard. If the NYT investigation holds up, though, it may be irreparably tarnished.

The following are some highlights and revelations from the NYT's investigation.

  • The NYT found about 2,700 allegedly dangerous incidents that put nursing homes' resident health at risk that were never factored into the CMS nursing home rating system.
  • Apparent violations are kept hidden from the public through a lengthy and secretive appeals process. As long as an appeal is ongoing, identified violations are not reported publicly or factored into ratings. To keep their scores up, nursing homes are highly incentivized to appeal all violation orders.
  • Nursing home violation appeals should take about 60 days to complete. However, sometimes the process can take over a year to conclude.
  • If a nursing home wins an appeal, the violation is typically withdrawn or reduced. If the nursing home loses, the information is supposed to become public and factor into ratings. However, appealed case results frequently fall through the cracks in the system and are never revealed publicly or considered in ratings.
  • A lot of the information behind the CMS rating system is wrong and often makes nursing home facilities seem cleaner and safer than they are.
  • In some states, nursing home inspectors are discouraged from issuing "immediate jeopardy" violations when they spot dangerous conditions. They are told to act more like "consultants" offering advice than inspectors issuing citations.

Help For Nursing Home Abuse Victims

When the government fails to do its job and protect vulnerable nursing home residents, it is up to the victims and their families to stop the abuse and get justice.

This is an unfair situation, but an experienced nursing home abuse and neglect attorney can level the playing field. Shuttlesworth Law Firm LLC fights for the rights and protection of injured victims of Alabama nursing home abuse.

Our established legal team is dedicated to getting you the justice and compensation you deserve. By coming forward, you may stop others from suffering the same abuse as your loved one.

Based in Birmingham, our law firm serves all of Alabama. If you know or suspect a loved one is being abused, contact us for a free case consultation. A member of our team can explain how the law applies to your situation and your legal options at no cost to you. We are ready to hear from you today.

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