Transparency Needed for Massachusetts Rest Homes

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Extended care facilities provide either temporary or permanent healthcare services for those unable to manage independently. The facilities provide a lower level of care than hospitals yet can be staffed with nurses and healthcare aides, with doctors available to make the rounds as needed.

Deciding on the best facility, whether for oneself or a loved one, can be extremely stressful at an already challenging time of life. The public needs confidence that extended care providers are consistently held to high standards of performance.

If a nursing home is Medicaid/Medicare certified in Massachusetts, it is required to undergo surveys by the state—essentially performance reviews and on-site inspections to make sure the facility is up par. These unannounced surveys are conducted by nurses and licensed professionals. If standards are not met, the nursing home is required to prepare and submit a detailed compliance plan.

The surveys are available on the Mass.Gov website to benefit the public so people determine which nursing home is right for their needs—and which consistently meet government standards. The tool is also provides the public with access to monitor compliance once a decision is made on a home.

But the tool has shortcomings.

For instance, the Mill Pond Rest Home in Ashland is Medicaid certified. Apparently, the facility complies with surveys as well—but its information isn’t on the Mass.Gov nursing home website. Mill Pond is a rest home—which means it’s not a skilled nursing facility. Staff cannot administer IVs or prescribe medication. But they are still Medicaid certified—and must undergo routine surveys.

Unlike skilled nursing facilities, rest homes surveys are nowhere to be found online.

So the question is this: why not? If nursing home surveys are readily available for the public’s perusal online, so should rest home surveys.

When I called Mill Pond, they assured me that they were Medicaid certified with unskilled nurses, with routine surveys being conducted. When I mentioned that nursing home surveys were available online, the representative told me that she knew about the transparency of nursing home surveys, but said that the rest home surveys were not currently available online to her knowledge.

To find out why, I called Massachusetts’ Department of Health and Human Services. I was first connected to Paul DiNatale, the assistant director of the Division of Health Care Facility Licensure and Certification. I left a voice mail but the call was not returned. When I tried again, I was transferred to an attorney, because the receptionist wanted to make sure they were allowed to answer my question even though the department’s website states that “Consumers may call the Division at (617) 753-8000 to obtain survey information on facilities for which no tool is available”.

No one provided me with the survey information I requested. It’s a glaring oversight to have rest home surveys unavailable for general consumption. Let’s hope the department improves its transparency – the public counts on it.

Sabrina Chishti is a Transparency Intern at Pioneer Institute from Tufts University majoring in biology and political science.