California's Model for Online Searches

By Nuyens, Louis | Aging Today, November/December 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project California's Model for Online Searches

Nuyens, Louis, Aging Today

Imagine trying to locate a suitable nursing home, in or near the city of Hayward, Calif., for a resident who requires a ventilator and whose finances require a facility that accepts Medicaid. Even knowing where to begin a search like this can be daunting. For a patient advocate or hospital discharge planner, quickly finding information to evaluate appropriate facilities and conveying that information comprehensively to a resident or the resident's loved ones can be a difficult chore. However, those seeking a nursing home in California-or looking for a model program that might be adapted in other states-can find answers at a new website at is a project of the nonprofit advocacy organization California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), based in San Francisco. As part of CANHR's staff, I and my colleagues spent two years constructing and testing the site before launching it last spring. It is designed to be as complete and easy to use as possible. For example, a health professional searching the Hayward area need only fill in the blanks on the website's first search page for location, Medicare, Medicaid (called MediCal in California), and special services needed-the search yields one Medicaid-certified facility in Hayward that acce,pts ventilator-dependent residents. To find more alternatives; the user might elect to search Alameda County, where Hayward is located-this search finds four facilities. Using the "Compare" feature of the website, the user can then quickly compare the regulatory histories of these facilities, looking at total numbers of complaints, deficiencies, citations or any governmental remedies imposed.


Users of the website can "drill down" to recover more data on any facility. They can find brief descriptions of any events cited by federal or state agencies and check whether civil monetary penalties were issued .Users also can obtain detailed data on facilities and the services they offer-which CANHR gathered from questionnaire responses-such as information on financial status, ownership, staffing levels and types of residents accepted. To make the site as user friendly as possible, CANHR'S staff made sure the site not only explains almost every term but also that it offers tips on how to interpret jargon in easy-to-access "Help" windows. In addition, the timeliness of data is indicated throughout the site.

The CANHR website avoids the over-- simplification often inherent in attempts to rank nursing homes with rating systems; also, it neither endorses nor condemns any facility. Rather, nursinghome aims to enable consumers to make informed choices and encourages them to respond with caution to indicators that a facility's quality of care might be compromised. CANHR is careful to note that use of website data should be supplemented by visits to the facility prior to placement of a patient, as well as by frequent visits throughout the resident's stay.

Although a number of other websites offer data on nursing homes, those created on a for-profit basis have yet to generate a commercially successful model that is comprehensive, and government sites have not been as clear or complete as this one. Because nursinghome is specific to California, it can incorporate state-specific facility and consumer information not available on more generic sites.


A key problem that CANHR addressed in constructing was the coordination of state and federal data.

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