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Evaluating Nursing Homes: ‘We Don’t Track Death’

The big problem with Nursing Home Compare, the government website that provides basic data about most of the nation’s nursing homes, isn’t in the information it provides but in the information it doesn’t provide.

It doesn’t, for example, tell you who owns a nursing home, allow you to see or download the actual reports filed by inspectors or describe any citations or fines the facility may have received—even if a violation had been deemed the “direct proximate cause” of a patient’s premature death.

Consider Hemet Valley Healthcare Center in Hemet, Calif., which last August was the subject of a story in the local newspaper, the Press-Enterprise, headlined “Nursing Home Fined $100,000.” California authorities had cited the facility for failing to follow proper procedures (including calling a doctor) when Olga Baroncini, 81, hit her head in September 2007—and died two days later. The death was referenced nowhere on Nursing Home Compare before Hemet Valley closed in December, citing financial reasons.

Then there’s Life Care Center of Lawrenceville, Ga., which was cited recently for causing the deaths of two patients through “failure of care.” Speaking before a House subcommittee in May, the chief counsel to the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) explained how one of the patients “allegedly developed maggots in her mouth and died of larvae infestation because the facility staff failed to provide basic oral hygiene care.” The deaths are referenced nowhere on Nursing Home Compare, which is operated by HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Asked by Bulletin Today about the absence of information about deaths caused by negligence, which many families would consider highly relevant to their choice of a nursing home, a CMS spokesperson said: “We don’t track death.”

Peter Ross Range is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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