Using Public Records to Research Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities

The decision to place a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility is never easy. With more than 17,000 nursing home facilities and 33,000 assisted living facilities operating in the United States, picking the right facility could seem like an impossible task. While the AARP provides a wealth of knowledge to help you begin your search, public records can provide the information you need to make a well-informed decision.

You first need to decide if your loved one’s needs will be better met in a nursing home or an assisted living facility. All nursing homes are regulated by the federal government as a condition of accepting Medicaid funding. Assisted living facilities are not covered by Medicaid, and therefore their regulation is left up to the individual states.

If you chose a nursing home, the United States Department of Health and Human Services maintains a federal database allowing you to compare various nursing homes based upon several criteria, available here. The information provided will include details from federally required health and fire safety inspections of the facility carried out by state officials; staffing hours of RNs, LPNs, LVNs, and CNAs reported by the facility to state agencies; and, Quality Measure scores assessed by Medicare based upon information self-reported by the facility.

In addition, you also have the right to review any nursing home facility’s most recent inspection report, known as form HCFA-2567, by asking to review the report in-person.

Due to the structuring and oversight of assisted living facilities, you will not be able to use the United States Department of Health and Human Services web site to obtain information. However, the Assisted Living Federation of America provides a searchable database of facilities on their web site, and also provides a state by state listing of officials and agencies responsible for licensing assisted living facilities, available here. Most state regulatory agencies provide information on assisted living facilities on their web site, although the degree of information provided can vary from a listing of enforcement actions to a complete review of facility inspection findings. Additional information, including hard copies of inspection reports or enforcement actions can be obtained from the state agency responsible for regulation of assisted living facilities.

After you have reviewed facility inspection reports, we suggest that you conduct a review of the civil court indexes in the county in which the facility resides. This can be done in-person at the local county courthouse. You should review any cases in which the facility is named as a defendant in order to identify cases of abuse, neglect, or malpractice that may have occurred at the facility. The court records can provide you a better insight to the day to day operations of the facility, and also highlight questions that you should be asking the facility managers.

Finally, you should always conduct a search of the Better Business Bureau, local newspapers, and the internet to learn what others are saying about the facility.