Thanks to the Internet, anyone can find out which nursing homes get good ratings from regulators -- and which ones have gotten into trouble for health violations, been heavily fined or lost federal payments.
There are at least two websites useful for looking up nursing home inspections.
In Ohio, nursing home inspections are done by the state health department on behalf of the federal government. The federal government's Medicare site includes a website at medicare.gov/nhcompare/ for making comparisons of nursing homes.
A search for "Sandusky OH" provides a list for 10 nursing homes rated for quality. The site rates Great Lakes Transitional Care, 1912 Hayes Ave., as "much above average" in its overall rating for quality, with several other local homes rated "above average."
ProPublica.org, a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit news site, has a website for obtaining nursing home information at http://projects.propublica.org/nursing-homes/. It has a particular focus on helping visitors weed out bad nursing homes.
The online reports are helpful for nursing homes that get good ratings from regulators, said Brittany Dorsey, director of marketing for Parkvue Health Care Center in Perkins Township.
"When people come in, they have looked us up online first, at least our website, if they're not familiar with the Medicare site," Dorsey said.
Parkvue, which has 99 health care beds and and 87 residential living and assisted living beds, consistently gets good ratings from regulators.
If it's clear potential customers are looking at more than one nursing home in the Sandusky area, Parkvue officials will suggest looking up ratings on the Medicare site for comparing nursing homes,
Dorsey said, so they can get unbiased opinions from state surveyors.
ProPublica's online tool for looking at nursing home reports has some good news for north-central Ohio families who must face placing a loved one in a nursing home.
It shows that Ohio is a relatively good state for nursing home care. For example, Ohio nursing homes paid average fines of $8,128 per home during the last three years, compared to a national average of $11,300 and fines of $90,400 in Washington, the state with the largest fines.
Nursing homes in the Sandusky area fare well, compared to homes in other parts of Ohio.
Out of Ohio's 956 nursing homes, inspectors found 67 with serious deficiencies in about the last three years. Only one of the 67 -- Elmwood Nursing Home in Green Springs -- is in the Sandusky area.
None of the 47 homes that had Medicaid or Medicare payment suspensions over the last three years are in the Sandusky area.
The survey reports for the Elmwood family of homes in Green Springs has good news as well as bad. Elmwood Health Care Center at the Springs, 401 North Broadway, has enjoyed good inspection reports.
When the center received a deficiency-free rating in early 2012, it put out a press release announcing the results.
Jean Smith, administrator at the home, noted it also had zero deficiencies in 2010.
"Our staff and leadership teams are the best," she said. "They do such a wonderful job caring for our residents and patients."
But inspectors found more deficiencies at nearby Elmwood Nursing Home, 430 North Broadway St.
State surveyors from the health department found only four deficiencies at Elmwood Nursing Home in 2012. But in 2011, they found 19 deficiencies and levied a $7,800 fine. The nursing home was also fined $10,368 in 2009.
Some of the deficiencies cited in 2011 included failure to investigate the cause of injuries; failure to prevent bed sores; failure to keep the area free of accident hazards; failure to give each resident enough fluids to prevent dehydration; and failure to have a program to prevent infections from spreading.
Kathy Hunt, owner and CEO of Elmwood Centers, and Amanda Picciuoto, current administrator of the home, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Tessie Pollock, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said nursing homes often have changes in management and personnel, so it's not uncommon for ratings to vary from year to year.
"Our goal is to ensure compliance," she said.
When a nursing home receives a bad rating, the health department follows up.
"It is standard practice for a facility to submit a Plan of Correction to ODH and then for our surveyors to revisit and make sure the plan was put in place," Pollock said. "That usually occurs much sooner than a year."
State inspectors apparently felt that Elmwood Nursing Home was working with them. It was not flagged as a "special focus facility" -- a home with a history of serious quality issues -- nor did the federal government suspend payments to the nursing home, a step that's sometimes taken in serious cases.
ProPublica's website shows that a Toledo nursing home, Liberty West Nursing Center, has had three suspensions of federal payments in the last three years.