Federal officials on Thursday launched a Web site that includes a ranking system for nursing homes providing care for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.

The Web site was created to help families determine which nursing home best meets their needs.

Kerry Weems, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the goal was to make the data the agency has been providing online for years more accessible.

“The star scores are based on three measures: three years of health inspection surveys, the most recent nine months of quality measure results and the latest annual report of staffing ratios,” Weems said in a national conference call.

The site allows users to search for nursing homes by name or by location.

Several homes in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties were highly ranked, receiving four or five of five possible stars. They included Marshwood Center and Montello Manor in Lewiston; Maine Veterans’ Home in South Paris; Norway Rehab and Living Center in Norway; and Orchard Park Rehab and Living Center in Farmington.

Two homes, Russell Park Rehab and Living Center in Lewiston and Victorian Villa Rehabilitation in Canton, received single-star rankings.

In 2005, Russell Park, owned by North Country Associates, faced a civil penalty and had its Medicare payments temporarily suspended after an employee verbally abused at least two residents, according to Sun Journal archives.

Lewiston-based North Country Associates also owns Orchard Park and Edgewood Rehab and Living Center in Farmington.

Mary Jane Richards, chief operating officer of North Country, said the rankings reflect not quality but simply compliance with regulations.

“You can follow a regulation, like the temperatures are correct in your food, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the food tastes really good and people want to eat it,” she said.

The data used by CMS is not the most up-to-date, either, she said. “This is really a flawed mechanism because they are basing it on old data, going back to 2007,” she said. “So if a facility did not do well in a survey in 2007 but has since improved in 2008, people won’t see that.”

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials said the data would be updated at least four times a year.

Mark Jacobs, administrator of Victorian Villa, said he understood why CMS made the rankings but said it “oversimplifies” nursing home quality.

“With something as complex as a nursing home, one number is just scary,” he said, referring to the star ranking. “On the criteria, some of it’s reasonable, but I wouldn’t say they have chosen the best way.”

Jacobs said he hoped his facility’s poor ranking would be outweighed by its location.

“When you’re rural, you tend to not make your decision particularly related to quality because proximity is so important,” he said. “Or, if you are a person that puts a lot of weight in (a rank), it’s like, ‘Well, I won’t put my animal in this kennel, but I will in that kennel even though I have to drive 45 miles.'”

Jacobs said he had been frustrated by the process leading up to the ranking, because CMS had not been open about which criteria it would use.

“They didn’t want us to know how they were stirring and what ingredients were in the recipe, and we really wanted to get a bit of a jump on it,” he said. “Now we can start to get our hands around what they are checking for, how they are crunching the numbers and what I need to do in my facility to better address what they are looking for.”

CMS’ Weems said he hoped the rankings would prompt homes to improve their services.

“In publishing the number of stars each nursing home has scored, we hope not only to help families but to step up our encouragement of some poorly performing nursing homes to improve the quality of care that they provide,” he said.

Weems and nursing home administrators said the best way to evaluate the merits of a home is to visit it.

“No ranking system or Web site can substitute for a family actually visiting the nursing home they are considering for a family member,” Weems said.

Nationwide, 12 percent of nursing homes received five stars, 22 percent received a single star and the remaining 66 percent were distributed fairly evenly between two, three and four stars, according to Weems.

For more information, visit www.medicare.gov/nhcompare.

For more information, visit www.medicare.gov/nhcompare.

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