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User-Friendly Or Error-Ridden? Debate Swirls Around Website Comparing Nursing Homes

Screenshot of Cal Health Find website

Earlier this year, the state Department of Public Health launched a new website, Cal Health Find, intended to help people compare the quality of nursing homes and other health care facilities.

Now, California nursing home advocates are calling on the state to take it down, saying the new site is incomplete, inaccurate and “a huge step in the wrong direction.”

The state describes the website as a user-friendly replacement for its previous tool, the Health Facilities Consumer Information System. Among other things, state officials say the new site allows consumers to compare up to three facilities at a time, improves compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and offers language translation tools.

But the nonprofit organization California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform says those extras are of  little use because the content itself is wrong. The group complains of inaccurate complaint counts for problematic nursing homes and missing links to inspection reports filed before 2016.

“Choosing the right nursing homes can be a life-and-death decision,” said Michael Connors, an advocate with the organization. “This site should help them avoid places that are likely to neglect them. Right now, it will do the opposite.”

State officials argue that the site is a work in progress that is being refined, with updates to complaint counts coming this week. The new site cost about $437,000 to build and operate, officials said.

“The department has acknowledged and identified the source of the problem [with complaint counts] and has already implemented a correction plan,” Corey Egel, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, said in a written statement. “The department believes Cal Health Find improves the user experience. … We find no reason to remove the site while we correct errors.”

Deborah Pacyna, a spokeswoman for the California Association of Health Facilities, which represents nursing homes, said her organization also has shared some concerns about the data with the state, but she declined to give further details. She added that some nursing homes were complaining that pictures from Google Earth did not accurately reflect their facilities, instead showing only the street or a back parking lot. She repeated the state’s assertion that the site is a work in progress.

Connors said she remains skeptical that the state is taking the problems seriously.

The state’s old website is still up, although it refers people to the new site. A comparison of its data with that available on Cal Health Find showed marked discrepancies.

For example, the state’s old website shows that 90 complaints were made against Lake Merritt Healthcare Center in Oakland in 2017. The new website shows only 34 for the same year. Similarly, while the old website lists 49 complaints against San Diego Healthcare Center in 2017, the new website lists only 13.

Officials offered a complex explanation for the discrepancies, including that the new site contained more records so that it was updating more slowly than the old one. Also, they said, the old site erroneously counted some deficiencies more than once.

People searching the new website will find no links next to individual nursing homes for citations made before 2016 – those links are still there but, according to the patient advocates, buried on the new site.

So, the advocates say, an individual considering Oakpark Healthcare Center in Tujunga, for example, may miss the serious Class AA citation from September 2015 that was more readily evident on the old website. That citation determined that the nursing home failed to identify and treat a gangrenous wound on a resident’s heel, leading to her death.

This story was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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