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Rating Maine Nursing Homes: Is Your Elderly Loved One Safe?

Imagine living in a Maine nursing home and having cancer or arthritis so severe that you cannot get out of bed by yourself. You rely on the nurses to make sure your pain patch is in place, but the nurses don’t check, and the nursing assistants steal your pain medication. Imagine that no one comes right away when you press your call light to go the bathroom, and no one comes to help you change your position. Imagine that you fall out of bed and break your arm trying to get to the bathroom on your own. And imagine that, because you aren’t positioned by nurses on schedule, you develop a large and excruciatingly painful bedsore that grows deep into your flesh and becomes infected.

All of these images are real examples of injuries caused by nursing home negligence in Maine. Nursing home negligence caused by understaffing, or poorly trained staff, may cause severe injuries and death to Maine’s most vulnerable population- the nursing home bound elderly.

Families need to know that that their elderly mother, father, aunt, uncle or dear, older friend is safe and well cared for. How do Mainers scratch the surface of a nursing home that appears clean and pleasant on an introductory tour? One starting point is to look at a nursing home’s “star rating”.

The federal government has a five-star rating system. A Maine nursing home can obtain up to five stars (much above average) in each of five areas: Health Inspections, Nursing Home Staffing, Quality Measures, Fire/Safety. The lowest ranking possible is one star (much below average).

In Maine, the good news is that 26% of our long term care facilities received the government’s best nursing home score. However, more than 7% of our nursing homes received the lowest “one star” ranking.

According to officials, the five star rating system is meant to be an accompanying tool for consumers to compare nursing homes, but should not take the place of visits and interviews at the actual facility. Here’s why:

A Nursing Home may receive five stars for staffing, three stars for inspections, three stars for fire safety, but only one star for quality measures, and still have an overall score of three stars. Even if a nursing home has an overall three star score, would you want your mother or father exposed to a higher risk of injury, including bedsores and urinary tract infections, than they would encounter at a different nursing home only a half mile away? When a nursing home tells the federal government that it has great staffing, but also has a high percentage of bedsores, urinary tract infections and depressed residents, the facts speak for themselves. Nursing homes are only as good as the care they deliver.

Mainers may see the rating system as a way to challenge nursing homes to improve the care they provide in the 112 facilities across the state. Maine families considering nursing homes for loved ones should weigh many factors when choosing a long term care facility. The number of stars a nursing home is assigned is just the tip of the iceberg.

Copyright 2009 Briggs & Wholey