The Honolulu Star-Advertiser boldly declared in its front-page headline Wednesday that nursing home care in Hawaii is “the best in nation.”

Hopefully, people read the story all the way to the end, and then look at the paper’s reporting from last summer, which paints a far different picture.

In the latest piece, the most favorable indicator in the federal evaluation system — nursing homes with five-star ratings — was cherry-picked and a story was built around it.

Even then, the headline in the print edition should have included a qualifier since Washington, D.C. is actually the best in the nation in that category. (Some 39 percent of nursing homes in Hawaii have the top rating compared to 53 percent in D.C.)

photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Elderly receive help at a long-term care facility.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The far larger issue, though, is the story burying a crucial point for readers to consider when deciding how much weight to give the rating system that makes Hawaii seem so great.

Federal regulators have highlighted concerns over state regulators here tending to be lenient when it comes to inspecting nursing homes and not doing them on a timely basis.

In fact, Hawaii faced a huge fine for failing to inspect 17 of its 45 nursing homes in the time frame prescribed by federal law. A Star-Advertiser story in June quoted experts who underscored just how serious of an issue this is.

“To go beyond (the required time frame) opens up the whole problem of what is happening within these facilities,” Robyn Grant, director of public policy and advocacy for the Washington, D.C.-based National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, told the paper.

“The public should be concerned about nursing homes not inspected each year — as the law requires — because quality of care can change quickly without the oversight of regulators and the advocacy of ombudsmen,” added Patty Ducayet, president of the National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs.

Hawaii also lags the nation when it comes to the cost of nursing home care. A private room here costs 58 percent more than the national median of $77,745, and it’s growing at a slightly faster rate than the rest of the country.

If you can afford it, many experts agree that most of the nursing homes in Hawaii are providing fantastic care for kupuna. But there are still many that are mediocre or well below average, making it important to keep the focus on identifying ways to help them reach the high standards others have achieved.

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