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Low ranking of so many nursing homes in WNY requires improvement in care

The nation’s hospitals have just undergone a rigorous examination that ended up ranking them on a star rating system. Now it’s the turn of nursing homes to undergo the scrutiny of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the results are startlingly disturbing.

One in three nursing homes in Western New York – 26 out of 74 – received the lowest possible score in the latest ratings, 1 star out of 5. That is 16 more on the bottom than a year ago.

Western New York does not fare well in comparison with state and national results, as News business reporter Stephen T. Watson wrote. The region’s nursing homes had an average overall rating of 2.5 stars. That compares with 3.11 for all nursing homes in the state and 3.16 for all facilities in the nation.

Not all nursing homes suffered in the ratings. Nine area nursing homes received the highest 5-star rating, and four have held that position in each of the last three years. On the other end of the scale, three of the 26 facilities with 1 star have held that dreadful ranking since 2014.

Contributing to the low overall scores are widespread poor marks for staffing.

Nine nursing homes received a 1-star rating for staffing. Eight others received 2 stars, still below average.

Just one nursing home received 5 stars for staffing: Jennie B. Richmond Nursing Home in Springville.

Other factors figuring into the ratings are an inspection conducted by the state Health Department and a quality measure that includes metrics ranging from how often residents are injured in falls or experience pain.

One administrator attributed some of those low scores to the state and federal governments increasing their standards and being “tougher” on nursing home operators. If that’s the case, congratulations to the government. Families whose loved ones end up in nursing homes should welcome such stringent guidelines.

The emphasis these days is on “aging in place.” There’s an entire industry devoted to keeping people in their own homes and, for the most part, that is exactly where individuals want to spend their last days. It can be a heartbreaking and difficult decision to put a loved one into a nursing home, but sometimes it’s necessary.

Any one of us could end up in a nursing home and it is reasonable to expect good care. As the rankings show, many nursing home residents are not getting it.

A fair and accurate rating system is just one tool by which to judge a facility. Others include visiting the nursing home and talking to administration and staff.

The fact that nursing homes elsewhere are more likely to have a 5-star rating than nursing homes in this area and are less likely to have a 1-star rating shows that better scores are attainable. But even the state and national averages are problematic and should provide the impetus to raise standards across the board.

Richard Herrick, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association, said that even 1-star facilities deliver care and meet basic requirements of their licenses. That is cold comfort to people with loved ones in those facilities.

The scores of four area nursing homes improved by 2 stars, while nine others gained 1 star. These are welcome signs of improvement and should encourage others to follow suit.

The fact remains that dozens of nursing homes hold the lowest ranking. That can’t continue.

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