5 Star Rating of Nursing Homes: CMS and Nursing Home Compare

December 16, 2008

It turns out the main stream media has somehow received the Five Star data ahead of many nursing homes. The listserves are abuzz with Administrators complaining of having to talk to newspapers, televisions stations and the like about their five-star rating, without actually knowing the rating themselves.

Furthermore, there seems to be a lot of grumbling about the accuracy and precision of the Five Star Ratings. The five step “How the Ratings are Calculated” guide CMS sent to MDS mailboxes is pretty basic. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is:

How the Ratings are Calculated:

A nursing home’s Overall Quality rating on Nursing Home Compare (www.medicare.gov) is based on its ratings for Health Inspections, Quality Measures (QMs), and Staffing. Ratings for each domain and the overall rating range from 1 star to 5 stars, with more stars indicating higher quality. Based on these three ratings, the overall 5-star rating is assigned in 5 steps:

Step 1: Start with the Health Inspection Rating.

Step 2: Add one star if the Staffing rating is 4 or 5 stars and also greater than the Health Inspection rating. Subtract one star if the Staffing rating is 1 star. The rating cannot go above 5 stars or lower than 1 star.

Step 3: Add one star if the Quality Measure rating is 5 stars; subtract one star if the Quality Measure rating is 1 star. The rating cannot go above 5 stars or lower than 1 star.

Step 4: If the Health Inspection rating is 1 star, then the Overall Quality rating cannot be upgraded by more than one star based on the Staffing and Quality Measure ratings.

Step 5: If a nursing home is a Special Focus Facility that has not graduated, the maximum Overall Quality rating is 3 stars.

Nursing Home Compare provides a five-star rating for each of the following three components:

1) Health Inspection ratings:

• Ratings are calculated from points that are assigned to the results of nursing home surveys over the past three years, as well as complaint surveys from the past three years and survey revisits. More recent surveys are weighted more heavily.

• Points are assigned based on the number, scope and severity of a nursing home’s health deficiencies. If multiple revisits are required to ensure that major deficiencies are corrected, additional points are added to the health inspection score.

• Lower health inspection scores result in a better 5-Star rating on Nursing Home Compare.

• Nursing homes are ranked within their state based on their score, and the number of stars is based on where the nursing home falls within the state ranking.

• The top 10% of facilities get 5 stars, the bottom 20% get 1 star, and the middle 70% of nursing homes receive 2, 3 or 4 stars, with equal proportions (23.33%) in each category.

• Health Inspection ratings are re-calculated every month to account for new survey results entering into the system.

2) Quality Measure ratings:

• Ratings are calculated from a nursing home’s performance on 10 Quality Measures (QMs), which are a subset of those reported on Nursing Home Compare.

• The QMs include 7 long-stay (chronic care) QMs and 3 short-stay (post-acute care) QMs.

Long-Stay QMs Short-Stay QMs

• ADL Decline

• Mobility Decline

• Catheter

• High-Risk Pressure Ulcers • Physical Restraints

• Urinary Tract Infections

• Moderate to Severe Pain • Pressure Ulcers

• Moderate to Severe Pain

• Pressure Ulcers

• Ratings are calculated using the three most recent quarters of data.

• ADL Decline and Mobility Decline contribute more heavily (each weighted at 1.667 times) than the other QMs.

• A nursing home’s performance on the ADL Decline and Mobility Decline QMs is ranked against all other nursing homes in the state.

• A nursing home’s performance on the other 8 measures is ranked against all other nursing homes in the nation.

• Points are assigned for each QM based on what quintile the facility falls in comparison to other nursing homes. Points for each QM are added together for a total point score.

• Based on this total score, the top 10% of facilities nationwide get 5 stars, the bottom 20% get 1 star, and the middle 70% of nursing homes receive 2, 3 or 4 stars, with an equal proportion (23.33%) in each category.

3) Staffing ratings:

• Ratings are calculated from two measures: RN hours per resident day and total staffing hours (RN, LPN, nurse aide) per resident day. These two measures contribute equally to the Staffing Rating.

• Staffing measures are derived from OSCAR data that is then case mix adjusted based on the facility’s distribution of MDS assessments by RUG-III group, based on the number of RN, LPN, and nurse aide minutes associated with each RUG-III group

• Other staff, such as clerical, administrative, and housekeeping staff, are not included in the calculation of the Staffing ratings.

• For each staffing measure, a 5-Star rating is assigned based on where the facility ranks compared to the adjusted staffing hours for all freestanding facilities AND where the facility ranks compared to optimal staffing levels identified in the 2001 CMS Staffing Study.

• To earn 5 stars on the Staffing rating, the nursing home must meet or exceed the CMS staffing study thresholds for both RN and total nursing hours per resident day.

• The Nursing Home Compare website will include a “drill down” that shows the nursing home’s rating for RN Staffing.

The RN Staffing Rating for Nursing Home Name is .

Ratings are provided only for nursing homes that have had at least two standard health inspection surveys. Nursing homes that have not yet had two standard health inspection surveys are listed as ‘too new to rate,’ and no rating information is provided for the nursing home If the rating indicates ‘data not available’ then the data needed to rate the nursing home were not available.

If Your Rating Isn’t What You Think it Should Be

If your nursing home’s rating seems to be markedly different from your expectation, it may be that a recent survey has not yet been entered into the database. It may also arise from a dispute resolution or appeal decision that has not yet entered into the database. You can check the health inspection detail on Nursing Home Compare for more information about the particular deficiencies that entered into the calculation.

If your quality measure rating states “data not available,”, it means that there were too few eligible residents for us to calculate a reliable quality measure. If your staffing score says “data not available,” it means that the number of hours of staffing were found to be a value that were so extremely high or low that they were not plausible. In this case, please check with your state survey agency to confirm the staffing values you reported.

A technical manual containing additional information can be found on the CMS website (http://www.cms.hhs.gov/CertificationandComplianc/).


If you have questions, please contact the 5-Star Helpline at 1-800-839-9290.

To make matters worse, as of this writing, the technical manual has not yet been published on CMS’ website (the link above). So, some Administrators are getting some pretty bad news, with no technical context in which to frame it.

Whether the Five Star Nursing Home Compare site will be a highly used tool by the public remains to be seen, but the five star system needs to accurately reflect the quality of care if it is to be a usable metric.  My fear (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this) is that the Five Star system will make a confusing, relatively difficult to use, flawed data set (the Nursing Home Compare website) less difficult to use, but still just as flawed.  I know my own facility’s overall star rating was less than I anticipated.  I intend to pour over the technical manual, looking for a way to match the Nursing Home Compare Five Star Rating with the quality of care I know my staff provides every day.

*Update: the technical manual is now online.  I’ve made the link above live.


3 Responses to “5 Star Rating of Nursing Homes: CMS and Nursing Home Compare”

  1. jonpgroth Says:

    Good Post. Thanks for the added detail. I’m one of those who commented about the rating system way back in June.


  2. nursinghomeadministrator Says:

    Thanks for the comment.
    I agree with you that this five-star system may be a positive thing (see my first post on the Rating dated, November 17, 2008). At the very least, the Five-Star Rating can be an occasion for patient and family education. I worry that relatively good homes will not be considered though if the metric is so highly skewed that families discard them out of hand.

    Still, there are a number of factors that go into nursing home choice (geography, word of mouth, etc.) other than the Star Rating.

  3. gpawelski Says:

    State Surveys are independent evaluations of nursing facility performance. Annual surveys are conducted by state survey agencies, usually the state’s department of health, using protocols, procedures, and forms developed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

    A consumer concern about surveys is the repeated finding by the Governement Accountability Office (GAO), in a series of reports issued since 1998, that surveys understate deficiencies and cite deficiencies as less serious than they actually are.

    The survey component of CMS’s proposed ranking system provides a more positive statement about quality than justified. States are increasingly using their state enforcement systems, instead of the federal system, to sanction facilities for noncompliance with standards of care. State enforcement actions do not appear on Nursing Home Compare.

    The National Senior Citizens Law Center recommends that consumers use the new rating system with caution, and only as an aid while also pursuing other information and strategies. Consumers need to understand that the five-star system is a beginning, not an end.

    A nursing home’s quality can shift from month to month, so you have to be savvy in asking the right questions. Existing residents and their family members should be asked for their opinions.

    Inspection data is mostly based on a once-a-year survey and may not accurately reflect the nursing home’s performance today. Staffing information and quality measures are “self-reported” data by the nursing homes themselves. Self-reported data makes nursing home quality “appear” to be better than it actually is. It cannot easily be reduced to a star rating.

    A recent GAO study found that nursing homes over-report staffing levels compared with staffing reported on audited Medicaid cost reports. Over-reporting of nursing coverage is associated with for-profit ownership of nursing homes.

    Researchers recommend more careful scrutiny of staffing levels in for-profit facilties during the survey process and that improvements be made to the process of public reporting of staffing levels.

    CMS should provide more and better information on Nursing Home Compare, including links to the actual survey forms and information about staff turnover. Also, CMS should use payroll data to report staffing information.

    Anything to do with “quality indicators” is bogus. When de-regulation failed under the present adminitration, they wanted, among other things, the “quality indicator” process to eventually replace traditional annual surverys because it relies upon self-reported, unaudited data supplied by the facilities themselves and is without consequences for failures.

    It leaves you with that warm-n-fuzzy “we’ll-help-them-fix-their-problems,” even though 99% of their failures are failures of practices they should already be experienced in before they are granted a license. It is part of the “kid-gloves,” don’t be-so-hard-on-the-poor-poor-nursing-homes” from the Bush administration.

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