Get in the know about nursing homes

By Stephen Nohlgren
Published August 28, 2007

Your husband broke his hip and needs three weeks of rehab. . . . Your mother has Alzheimer's and can no longer live alone. . . . You need a nursing home but have no idea where to start. State and federal agencies are ready to help. A wealth of information that once languished in paper files in Tallahassee or Washington is now available online, often in very searchable ways. A few clicks can lead you to the highest-rated nursing homes near you. You can check out inspection results and per-resident staffing levels. We list the top-ranked nursing care facilities in the Tampa Bay area. There are no nursing homes in Hernando County with four-star or five-star ratings.

People who are computer-shy can still use telephones and snail-mail. But the Internet is faster and more thorough. Here is a guide to what you need to know and how to go about finding it.

The Nursing Home Guide


Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration offers a great one-stop shopping site that includes:

- Detailed tips on how to pick a nursing home.

- Descriptions and links to alternative long-term care services.

- A searchable database of nursing homes by location and characteristics. For example, you can find out which facilities have staffers who speak foreign languages (from Creole to Polish).

- Details of state inspections, a yardstick for measuring care.

- A five-star rating system that shows how homes stack up against nearby competitors. This is how to tell, at a glance, which good nursing homes are near you.

The printed Nursing Home Guide is less exhaustive; get one by calling AHCA toll-free at 1-888-419-3456.)

Nursing Home Compare

(www.medicare.gov, then click on "Compare Nursing Homes in Your Area.")

This is the federal government's searchable database. Tampa Bay nursing homes are included in the North Florida section. You can select up to 10 homes at a time to compare:

- Per-patient staffing levels. Avoid homes with abnormally low staffing. High staffing levels can be a sign of, though do not guarantee, good care. In fact, some poorly run homes can't attract or keep residents, which distorts their per-patient staffing levels.

- Inspection details. After picking the homes you want to compare, click on "View all information about this nursing home" for each home. Then click on "Health Inspection."

These are the same inspection results listed on Florida's Nursing Home Guide, but the federal Web site also displays three years of data if you click on "View Previous Inspection Results." Several years of inspections can show whether good or bad inspection results are a pattern or a one-year anomaly.

- Occupancy. One screen lists the number of residents in a home; another screen lists the number of beds. This lets you calculate whether a home is running close to capacity. No home runs 100 percent full for long, but anything below about 80 percent could indicate problems.

- Quality measures: These numbers appear to indicate good or bad care. But take them with a big grain of salt. Staff at good homes document even the slightest skin redness or hints of pain in a patient's medical chart. That is good care, but it can make it appear the home has more bed sores and pain.

Staff at a poorly run home might ignore the same symptoms, which makes their "quality measures" look better. Use the quality measures as topics for discussion with the home's administrators. If residents aren't getting flu shots, why not? If lots of patients are experiencing weight loss, ask why.



Use the "facility locator" tab at the top of the home page to find nearby services, including nursing homes, adult day care, assisted living and home health care agencies.

Florida Department of Elder Affairs


This site has many useful links for navigating long-term care. Thus, you can sort through an assisted-living database by location, cost and needs by clicking on "Housing, Assisted Living, Adult Day Care" on the right side of the home page, then Assisted Living, then Florida Assisted Living database. Or go directly to www.floridaaffordableassistedliving.org .

Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at (727) 893-8442 or nohlgren@sptimes.com.