Half of West Virginia's 130 nursing homes - 50.8 percent - have scored below average in Medicare's Nursing Home Compare program in December.

Those facilities scored one or two stars, below average, with 34 "well below average."

Regional nursing care facilities did rather well, with three exceptions, the Laurel Nursing Home at Big Otter (60 beds) and the Pine View Nursing and Rehab (56 beds) in Harrisville. They received one star, or "well below average." Braxton Health Center in Gassaway (65 beds)received two stars, "below average."

"I was furious when I saw that," said Jesse Samples, director of West Virginia Health Care Association, the state nursing home association. "This new five-star rating system is very unfortunate and unfair."

Medicare claims their five-star rating system will allow consumers to compare home to home and eventually year to year.

Samples said nursing homes are too complex to be star-rated like hotels.

"CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid] has rolled out a new system based on data that a lot of people in the profession find flawed and incomplete," he said.

Grantsville's Minnie Hamilton Health System (24 beds), Miletree Nursing in Spencer (62 beds), and Roane General Hospital in Spencer (35 beds) scored three stars, "average" under the rating system.

Sunbridge of Glenville (65 beds) scored exceptionally high with five stars.

A Charleston nursing facility director said "This rating system is scary."

Charleston attorney Harry Bell, who frequently brings lawsuits against nursing homes for poor care said, "I think the Nursing Home Compare ratings are a great tool for consumers to use. It's needed."

In the past seven years, Bell's office has handled hundreds of cases against West Virginia nursing homes.

His firm currently has 41 cases, mostly wrongful-death cases.

"The larger, for-profit chains are the ones where we see the problems," Bell said. "We rarely get calls about nonprofit facilities."

The below average ratings appear to support Bell's point.

National for-profit chains operate 20 of 34 West Virginia nursing homes that received only one star, the lowest Medicare rating.

Medicare rates each home in three detailed areas: staff-patient ratio for nurses and other staff; three years of state inspections, which include patient safety and treatment and environmental safety; and 10 health quality measures such as percentage of patients with bedsores or urinary infections.

If Medicare were really giving a "straightforward assessment of nursing home quality," Samples said they should rate patient satisfaction with the home, home atmosphere, availability of special services, the extent to which the home accepts patients with complex problems and/or Medicaid (lower) payment, the staff quality, and the activities program, among other things.

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