James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor

News that nursing home ratings would be frozen on the federal website for consumer research for six months drew a lot of interest from providers when regulators’ plans were announced this spring. And it should have.

Not because the announcement was totally unexpected. It wasn’t. Instead, providers should be grimly resigning themselves to the fact that the screws are tightening on them even more.

This is the lull before a storm hits for some providers: For better or worse, your most recent Five-Star Quality Ranking currently remains frozen on the Nursing Home Compare website. It’s all a part of allowing consumers and critics even more opportunities to treat you like a piñata.

When the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services first started posting certain survey and ranking information on the Nursing Home Compare website, much of it was simply too dense. Provider anxiety subsided quickly. The public saw lots of numbers but could make little sense of them. And they didn’t fuss about it, either.

Now, however, one can rank a nursing home just like the latest movie release or bistro down the street. Never mind that people’s lives are at stake in one of these categories but not the others.

CMS began freezing quality measure data and five-star quality ratings for six months on April 23. Those sickly looking faces are from your fellow operators who had a bad previous quarter. By the time the data are unfrozen, new quality measure data from MDS 3.0 will have been collected.

By then, the site also will be giving consumers better opportunities to file complaints against you. “Consumer rights” will be placed more prominently and the ability to fax in a standardized complaint form will be available. “At least it’s going to be an efficient execution,” some providers must be muttering under their breath.

Then in July, CMS will start posting even more information for consumers to salivate over. It will include the number of substantiated complaints received, as well as instances of “enforceable actions” such as civil monetary penalties and denials of payment or new admissions.

If you think that’s bad, remember that provider advocates had to fight to prevent the publishing of ALL complaints, not just substantiated ones. Maybe they’re not all out to get you after all.