We're seeing a new and concerning trend currently in area nursing homes. The performance of nursing homes is well documented by the government, as each facility is surveyed by State inspectors with a surprise health inspection on an annual basis (at a minimum). Each facility earns a 1-star to 5-star rating from Medicare, see results at www.Medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare.
The overall rating is a combination of health inspections, fire safety inspections, staffing, quality measures, and penalties. While we NEVER totally depend on the Medicare star ratings when researching facilities, this rating DOES provide a wealth of information to form an opinion. There are major flaws in the way Medicare calculates the ratings, but there is a lot of very helpful information in these reports.
In the past, you could expect to see the usual bell curve of rating results. Meaning, there are a few 5-star rated facilities, a few more 4-star rated facilities, then many in the middle at 3-stars. Then, fewer 2-star and fewer 1-star facilities. In other words, the majority were in the middle, with fewer high and low performing places.
However, today, we're seeing the curve begin to flatten. The 5s and 4s continue to do a good job. Somehow, incredibly, many of the 1s and 2s can't seem to pull themselves up and improve, they continue to earn every bit of their low rating... but it is in the middle of the bell curve that we see change. We're seeing some of the average 3s raise the bar and improve their performance, earning a 4 or 5. But, unfortunately, more are falling into the 2 or 1 category. There could be many reasons for this, but we believe one of the primary drivers is related to staffing issues.
This change in the bell curve results in fewer average places to choose from. As a result, this has increased demand for 3-5 star-rated places, causing families to have fewer beds to choose from this summer, even in what is traditionally the lowest-demand 3-month time frame. For the past 17 years, the highest demand for all senior care has been in January and February, and the lowest demand in the summer, June through August. But, this summer, for the higher rated nursing homes in our area, this has NOT been the case. Because of the shift in the bell curve, their demand has not decreased during the summer months.
Waiting lists, in the summer months, is something we're NOT used to seeing. So, the message is: Act now, be proactive and do NOT delay, conduct your search ahead of the time you need to move (if possible). Get your name on a waiting list, then move when the time is right. If you put it off and wait until the last minute, you may be stuck choosing a place you do not prefer, as the better places may not be available.