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Transparency standards needed for care facilities

by Daily Inter Lake
| October 4, 2020 12:00 AM

Imagine arriving at a restaurant and finding a sign posted on the front door with a “D” rating, indicating the establishment “poses a significant risk to the public and immediate steps must be taken or closure proceedings will be implemented.”

Most would choose to eat elsewhere without hesitation.

While restaurant health inspection ratings can be found online, food and drink establishments are also required to post their ratings publicly — allowing customers the opportunity to make informed decisions and ask follow up questions.

Similar transparency standards should exist for long-term care facilities.

Last week, the Inter Lake reported that Whitefish Care and Rehabilitation Center earned the lowest deficiency rating possible at the start of September. The state discovered the facility had put the health and lives of residents in jeopardy after failing to protect them from an outbreak of the novel coronavirus that has killed 13 residents and infected 39 others.

Although these surveys and deficiencies can be unearthed online through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website, federal, state and local governments do not require that deficiency ratings be made public at the actual facility. Nor is it required that these ratings be automatically communicated to residents, their family members or staff.

In brief, restaurants are legally required to be more forthright when it comes to health and safety standards than the facilities entrusted with the health and wellbeing of our elderly - a vulnerable population known to be adversely impacted by COVID-19.

Inter Lake reporter Kianna Gardner spoke with several individuals who had loved ones in the facility during the outbreak, and all who were interviewed said they were not made aware of the deficiency rating, or previous poor ratings from spring 2020 and earlier.

In addition, they were unable to watch over the facility themselves because it was, and still is, closed to non-essential visitation. One subject who was able to remove her father from the facility said “covid has created blanket opportunities for senior citizens to be treated poorly behind closed doors.”

While we acknowledge the options for long-term care centers in the Flathead Valley are limited, particularly those that are CMS-certified, we encourage people to exhaustively research each one until these facilities are required to practice more stringent transparency measures.

The information can be found on CMS’s Nursing Home Compare website. Those looking to place a loved one in someone else’s care, either temporarily or in perpetuity, can find survey reports, past fines, information on staffing, quality of care and much more.

While many facilities in the state have not received deficiency ratings at the scope of Whitefish Care and Rehab’s, most CMS-certified homes have been cited for deficiencies at some point — these are, unfortunately, not uncommon. In fact, in Montana, 14 of the state’s 70 CMS-certified nursing homes have been cited for serious deficiencies in recent years.

After performing initial research, we also encourage people to push for additional information. How care facilities have improved is paramount, and this is information people will most likely have to gather on their own accord until more stringent transparency measures are put in place.