July 29, 2021

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How U.S. Ratings of Nursing Homes Mislead the Public – The New York Times

2 min read

The pandemic laid bare the flaws in the government rating system.

The state health inspections do little to penalize homes with poor records of preventing and controlling infections. From 2017 to 2019, The Times found, inspectors cited nearly 60 percent — more than 2,000 — of the country’s five-star facilities at least once for not following basic safety precautions, like regular hand washing. Yet they earned top ratings.

In San Bernardino, Calif., inspectors wrote up Del Rosa Villa for four different infection-control violations. It kept its five stars. Ninety residents at the 104-bed facility have contracted the coronavirus, and 13 have died.

Del Rosa Villa officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Life Care Centers of Kirkland, Wash., the first nursing home in the United States to have documented coronavirus cases, was found in 2019 to have weak infection controls, despite its five stars. State inspectors wrote it up for failing to “consistently implement an effective infection control program.”

Thirty-nine of the facility’s residents have died from Covid-19. The home has 190 beds.

Leigh Atherton, a Life Care spokeswoman, said that citation was the only lapse in infection control that inspectors had identified over 32 previous visits. She said the home quickly fixed the problem.

If the rating system worked as intended, it would have offered clues as to which homes were most likely to have out-of-control outbreaks and which homes would probably muddle through.

That is not what happened.

The Times found that there was little if any correlation between star ratings and how homes fared during the pandemic. At five-star facilities, the death rate from Covid-19 was only half a percentage point lower than at facilities that received lower ratings. And the death rate was slightly lower at two-star facilities than at four-star homes.

A facility’s location, the infection rate of the surrounding community and the race of nursing home residents all were predictors of whether a nursing home would suffer an outbreak. The star ratings didn’t matter.

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