In February, a San Jose nursing home resident felt pain and thought employees had mistakenly pulled out a catheter as they removed an incontinence brief.

The resident yelled at the employees to stop, but said they laughed, moved their hips like they were dancing and smirked.

"I felt terrible, ugly and down," the resident told investigators. "Treated like a dog."

A year earlier, an Oakland nursing home resident complained that the owner yanked family pictures off the wall, took away a crackers-and-jelly bedtime snack, and said the resident could not keep other food items relatives had left.

Eyes welling with tears, the resident told an investigator how much it meant to have photos of relatives in the room.

"Why did they do that to me?" the resident asked.

These incidents and thousands of others are outlined in data available through a new online tool that enables consumers to analyze inspection reports for nursing homes across the country.

The search engine was created by ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit organization devoted to investigative journalism. It is at http://projects.propublica.org/nursing-homes.

Called Nursing Home Inspect, the free tool holds details on 118,000 deficiencies at 14,565 institutions. Most of the reports have been completed since January 2011. New ones will be added as they become available.


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"It's great," said Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. "For consumers, once they've homed in on a particular facility, this can give them some idea of the quality of care and the problems."

Until recently, people have had to visit nursing homes or a government agency or file Freedom of Information Act requests to see inspection reports. This year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began posting the reports online.

ProPublica took that information and created an application that enables people to query the database and compile reports that contain a word or words such as "rape," "sexual assaults," "bedsores," "rude," "mistreat," "ignore" and "elope," a term used when people leave a facility unsupervised.

The goal is to enable consumers, researchers and others to see trends and the scope of problems.

Industry representatives maintain that looking only at tools such as Nursing Home Inspect gives a limited and skewed picture of what is occurring.

"Inspection reports are filled with negative findings," said Deborah Pacyna, spokeswoman for the California Association of Health Facilities. "It's all what you didn't do."

She noted that the inspection reports don't reveal overall resident satisfaction or innovative programs that may be in place.

Pacyna advised consumers to consider how nursing homes rank on quality measures such as staffing levels, percentage of residents who lose too much weight, and use of antipsychotic medications. These and other such measures can be found on the federal government's website at www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare.

The catheter incident is detailed in a Feb. 16 inspection report for Herman Health Care Center in San Jose, which was also faulted for using restraints to keep residents in wheelchairs as they ate or sat in a large activity room.

Administrator McNair Ezzard said the nursing home investigated and could not substantiate the catheter complaint. He declined to discuss the restraint allegations in detail, but described the facility as now "restraint free" and said, "Corrections were made and some employees were let go."

The complaint about photos being removed and food taken away came from a resident of Oakhill Springs Care Center in Oakland. The May 2011 inspection report also faulted the facility for not pulling privacy curtains and exposing partially dressed residents.

Oakhill Springs managers could not be reached for comment, but the owner told investigators the family photos interfered with room lighting and that the food had been at room temperature too long. The owner denied taking the crackers and jelly.

Consumer advocate McGinnis said Nursing Home Inspect is a valuable site but should be just one of the factors considered when choosing a nursing home. Nearness to relatives, whether the home accepts Medicare or Medi-Cal, and whether it meets the special needs of a potential resident are other factors.

Her organization's website, www.canhr.org, has information on citations issued by the state.

"We always encourage people to go visit facilities," McGinnis said. "If you don't like visiting there, it's very unlikely that your relative is going to want to live there."

Sandy Kleffman covers health. Contact her at 510-293-2478. Follow her at Twitter.com/skleffman.

Nursing home tips
Things to consider when using the Nursing Home Inspect search tool at http://projects.propublica.org/nursing-homes:
Because inspectors may write up reports differently, try several terms to describe the same thing. To find bedsore incidents, for example, also search for "pressure sores" and "pus."
Remember that almost all nursing homes have been cited for some deficiencies.
The government has redacted certain information, including medication names, diseases and some dates. Residents' genders also have been obscured.
The reports do not include nursing homes' plans for correcting problems. Those can be read at the nursing home or by submitting a Freedom of Information Act request with the government.
Some reports may contain a word such as rape, but that doesn't mean a rape occurred. When compiling statistics, each report should be reviewed for context.
Other resources
Additional details for comparing nursing homes can be found at:
Federal Nursing Home Compare site: www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare
California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform: www.canhr.org or 800-474-1116.