RED IS BAD: The red dots indicte understaffed homes. NY Times

Medicare has been slashing its quality ratings for nursing homes after the discovery that many were inadequately staffed. The Medicare ratings now on-line show 30 of 231 Arkansas nursing homes at the one-star level on a five-star scale, meaning “much below overage” care.

You can find the star rankings of Arkansas nursing homes here.

The New York Times and Kaiser Health have been reporting on the discovery of low levels of staffing and inadequate record-keeping.

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Medicare has lowered its star ratings for staffing levels in one out of 11 of the nation’s nursing homes — almost 1,400 of them — because they were either inadequately staffed with registered nurses or failed to provide payroll data that proved they had the required nursing coverage, federal records released this week show.

Medicare only recently began collecting and publishing payroll data on the staffing of nursing homes as required by the Affordable Care Act of 2010, rather than relying as it had before on the nursing homes’ own unverified reports.

The payroll records revealed lower overall staffing levels than the homes had disclosed, particularly among registered nurses. 

Legislation favorable to the powerful nursing home lobby has made the business very profitable in Arkansas, almost guaranteed. But as David Ramsey reported earlier this year, profits haven’t guaranteed quality care.

When care suffers, lawsuits sometimes arise, though they industry has come up with a number of ways to limit exposure through policy limits and corporate structures that make recovery difficult. Still this isn’t enough for the nursing home owners like Michael Morton. They are financing the constitutional amendment to limit the value of elderly people’s lives in damage suits and to cap fees for attorneys who’ll take up their cases. As additional protection, the nursing homes want the lobby-controlled legislature to take over court rule-making from the Arkansas Supreme Court should any additional help be required on the fly to limit their exposure for negligence, malpractice and cruelty.

We reported earlier on the findings about understaffing. Texas is particularly bad. Patient advocates argue that nursing homes in Texas have no incentive to staff since they are protected from lawsuits by laws there like the ones nursing homes hope to put in place in Arkansas.