WASHINGTON – With COVID-19 on the rise again and many nursing home staff unvaccinated, families still do not have easy access to crucial Medicare immunization data that will help them choose the right facility for their loved one.
Medicare has a âCare Compareâ consumer website that it has spent years refining. But that’s not where the agency publishes immunization numbers for residents and staff of individual nursing homes. Instead, Medicare relies on a COVID-19 data page for researchers. One way to find your way around is to scan a map for little red dots that represent nursing homes. There is also a huge spreadsheet. It is not considered particularly user-friendly.
Access to numbers is essential as there are big differences between nursing homes and within nursing homes when it comes to immunization.
Grabowski’s analysis of Medicare data indicates that nationally, about 78% of residents and 56% of staff completed their immunizations by the week ending June 20.
Within states, there can be big differences between counties, and even between nursing homes in the same community, said Terry Fulmer, president of the John A. Hartford Foundation, which strives to improve. care for the elderly.
âWe now have a Delta variant and we could have an increase,â Fulmer said. “My concern is that residents and staff are dying, and this could have been avoided.”
Medicare’s parent agency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, admitted in a statement that it has work to do. “We are working to make this data more user-friendly and easier to navigate,” the agency said.
But the agency has not made a commitment to post the vaccination rates of retirement homes on its Care Compare site. Instead, he promised improvements to the data site, and a spokesperson said CMS would listen to the recommendations.
Medicare said its planned improvements include highlighting nursing home immunization rates on “a number” of its websites and adding a snapshot of immunization rates at all facilities on the page. COVID-19 data from nursing homes. It also plans to “improve functionality so that consumers can more easily identify vaccination rates for residents and staff of a facility and compare rates between facilities.”
The agency gave no deadline, noting that vaccination data has only been available for a little over a month.
âOnce the vaccines started going out and the rates came down, I think the administration kind of forgot about nursing homes,â Harrington said. “So they really need to get the situation under control.”
Consumer advocates say they fear bureaucratic inertia will make it harder for Medicare to change course.
âThis data needs to be easily accessible to people, not just put in a big file on their website,â said Sam Brooks of Consumer Voice, a national advocacy group for quality long-term care. âIt’s just ridiculous that people have to work so hard. “
Medicare already provides information on flu and pneumonia vaccination rates for individual retirement homes on its Care Compare site. The two major groups in the nursing home industry say they have no objection to handling COVID-19 vaccination rates in the same way.
âCare Compare is the website for the public, and the information needs to be there,â said Toby Edelman, who monitors nursing homes for the nonprofit Center for Medicare Advocacy. âIf they want it somewhere else, they have to let people know. That does not make any sense.”
Although some states require nursing homes to display immunization rates, there is no such national requirement. Some nursing homes require staff to get vaccinated, but most rely on persuasion.
Nursing school teacher Harrington said she would like to see immunization rates in the range of 90% for residents and nursing home staff.
“I would not recommend any consumer to go to an establishment that has a low vaccination rate,” she said.