Nursing homes are pretty much all the same, right? How much difference could it make, really?
Well, consider this: In the last 10 years, the 37-bed Brookdale McMinnville Westside has received 125 complaints substantiated through official state investigation. The 22-bed Rock of Ages Mennonite Home has had just one, inadvertent administration of a wrong medication dosage in 2009.
Unfortunately, trying to objectively assess the pros and cons of competing nursing home and assisted living care providers is a daunting task. And state government failings have made it more so in Oregon.
Two credible rating services can be accessed online, the private CalQualityCare and Medicaid's NursingHomeCompare. But, as the names suggest, one is limited to California, the other to nursing homes — a designation excluding 12 of the 16 facilities serving McMinnville.
When U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley launched his political career in the Oregon House in 1998, he set about establishing a statewide database comparing staffing, complaints and other statistics on Oregon care facilities. He finally succeeded in 2008, after ascending to the powerful speakership.
But it took us until earlier this year to learn, via investigation conducted on the initiative of The Oregonian, how the state had excluded 60 percent of all substantiated complaints from the data. While investigators have substantiated more than 13,000 complaints over the last 10 years, the state only has a little over 5,000 posted for public inspection online, and can offer no clear rationale for the exclusions.
While expressing regret, the state, with tens of thousands of employees at its disposal, said it would take years to develop and post a complete keyword-searchable database. But The Oregonian, whose shrinking employment amounts to a tiny fraction of that number, managed to establish one in a matter of months.
The sheer volume of validated complaints is, of course, only one measure.
Complaints that are more serious, recent or repetitive, deserve heavier weighting. The consumer also needs to factor in administrative qualifications and tenure, staffing credentials and ratios, the culture and feel of the facility, evaluations from current residents, available levels of care, the number of services and activities, cleanliness and sanitation, medical service levels, costs and fees, and the extent to which residents are allowed to retain their dignity, individuality and role in decision making.
The Oregonian recommends taking at least two tours during different times of the day, sharing at least one meal with residents, quizzing residents and line staffers as well as sales personnel and top administrators, and reviewing copies of all relevant policy, procedure and inspection documents.
That's good advice, because choosing a long-term place to live for yourself or a loved one isn't to be taken lightly. The endeavor promises to be life changing, if not lifesaving.
State government is currently operating on a biennial general fund budget of $18 billion. Given that level of resources, you'd think it could do an adequate job of compiling and posting complete, accurate care facility records for public inspection.
All too often, the state seems long on good intentions and short on meaningful follow-through. Its constituents have every right to expect better.