The decision to go into a nursing home or place a loved one in a facility can be a difficult one to make. That’s why the public needs all the information available before making a decision.

The federal government requires each state to designate one nursing home as a special focus facility. The homes with this designation have serious deficiencies they need to correct. Trinity Homes in Minot had the designation until recently, when it corrected its problems and was taken off the list. North Dakota will have to select another home to replace Trinity Homes on the list. The list of all the homes nationwide with the designation is made public.

What’s not public is the list of homes on the candidate “watch list” for possible inclusion as a special focus facility. In North Dakota there are five facilities on the watch list: Western Horizons Care Center in Hettinger; Dunseith Community Nursing Home in Dunseith; Richardton Health Center in Richardton; Minot Health and Rehabilitation in Minot; and Knife River Care Center in Beulah.

Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., issued a report naming the 435 nursing homes, including the five in North Dakota, on the nationwide watch list. The senators point out not making the names of the nursing homes public makes it more difficult for people shopping for a facility to judge the quality of care. The public needs to have this information available.

The good news is that care has apparently improved over the years.

Bruce Pritschet, director of health facilities for the North Dakota Department of Health, said in general, nursing home conditions are better than when he started three decades ago. However, you would expect improvements over 30 years.

Four of the five homes on the watch list are in smaller North Dakota communities. It’s more difficult to find and keep staff in rural areas. Many homes also face financial issues.

During the 2017 legislative session, funding for nursing facilities wasn’t increased. The Tribune urged the 2019 Legislature to increase funding. Nursing homes got about a 3% increase in funding for each year of the 2019-21 budget cycle.

The North Dakota Long Term Care Association, the industry group for nursing homes, works with facilities to adopt best practices and provides training. Still, two Forum News Service stories in the July 8 Tribune outlined some of the issues inspectors found at nursing homes.

Josh Askvig, state director for AARP North Dakota, said his group ranks the state’s long-term care services as 37th in the nation overall and 13th for quality of life and quality of care. The quality of life and care rankings are encouraging.

Askvig believes it’s difficult to evaluate federal reports on nursing homes. He stresses transparency and finding ways to improve it. “Consumers have a right to know what kind of care they or their loved ones would receive in a certain facility,” he told Forum News Service.

The state and nursing homes need to work on ways to provide information in an easily accessible manner. Choosing a nursing home is often an end-of-life decision, and it needs to be a well-informed decision.

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