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Nursing home initiative seen as positive resource for consumers

| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2002

The federal government this week released information on the condition of nursing homes nationwide. One local nursing home official. Mary Susan Yurek, a marketing representative for Sugar Creek Rest Home, supported the initiative but advised caution for those meant to benefit from it: consumers seeking the best possible care for their family members.

"We want to make sure everyone knows that we're dedicated to providing best health care to the surrounding community, and that we are fully supportive of the federal government's efforts to provide a comparative guide to assist family members in choosing the best possible facility for their loved ones," said Yurek.

"Just like the federal government, we believe knowledgeable consumers are the best way to have nursing homes success."

The initiative, put forth by the National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, is an expansion of a pilot program that began earlier this year in Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington state. The objective is to provide families with information on 10 quality indicators examining such things as the prevalence of physical restraints at a facility and the percentage of residents who have bed sores. Information on deficiencies found during annual inspections and complaint investigations also is being made available.

All of the information for the initiative is based on data that nursing homes must routinely collect from residents as part of their participation in the federal Medicare program. In addition to providing consumers useful information, government officials are hoping that the new availability of information will prompt facilities to make improvements.

However, Yurek said Sugar Creek Rest Home is concerned that the government's information system not be the only factors considered when families are seeking a nursing home.

"We're encouraging people to use these initiatives as one of many steps in evaluating nursing homes for their loved ones, and to not make any final decisions on our nursing home or that of our competition in the community until they take an actual tour of the establishments, meet the staff, taste the food and evaluate all the positives and negatives first hand.

"There should be no shortcuts when choosing nursing home; it's an important and difficult step for families involved, and we as a nursing home encourage them to be informed, but to treat these initiatives as just one of the things they use to form their evaluation."

At Armstrong County Health Center in Kittanning, administrator Nancy Dragan said she sees the initiative as a positive for consumers.

"The information the government gets (for the initiative) is through recorded annual state inspections by the department of health, and we post our state inspection and the public is free to ask us any questions, because we have nothing to hide," said Dragan.

Consumers can access the information on the government's Web site or by calling 1-800-Medicare. The government also is placing ads about the new availability of the data in several major newspapers nationwide.

Reporting by The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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