Choosing a group home - How to find information on service providers

“Someday my son with Down syndrome will leave home. How do I find out about the various group home providers and assess which is the best for him?”

That’s a good question—and one that a lot of us have. Like the father quoted above, consumers and family members seeking waiver or intermediate care facility (ICF/MR) group home placements need accurate, quality of care information about service providers. Many who have already chosen a group home complain that their only source of information about their current house came from “asking around” or “word-of-mouth” recommendations. Others based their decision solely on location or availability.

But getting back to the question, how can consumers evaluate and compare one house with another? Or get accurate, unbiased information about a provider’s staff turnover and accident rates, health violations, and the resources available for recreation, social, education and fitness programs?

The MN Department of Human Services (DHS) is in the process of doing quality assessments. In 2007 the DHS convened a Quality Assurance Stakeholder Advisory Group to help develop a “quality management, assurance and improvement system designed to meet the federal requirements under home and community-based services waiver programs for persons with disabilities.” The Advisory Group plans to “field test” an annual survey that will be used to evaluate Minnesota waiver services. According to Jason Flint, DHS Disability Services Division, a random sample of five to ten per cent of all Minnesotans participating in the waiver program will be surveyed annually. Information would then be available to the public.

Since these official assessments are not yet available, what follows are suggestions for where consumers can look as they make their own assessments.

DHS information on medical facilities. Information on nursing homes, hospitals, Medicare-certified home health care agencies, health plans and other medical facilities is available through the Minnesota Department of Human Services DHS, www.health.state.mn.us/nhreportcard, or the US Department of Human Services, www.medicare.gov/default.asp.

Nonprofit service providers. GuideStar, www.guidestar.org, provides information about nonprofit organizations. A free “GuideStar Basic” search will generate an organization’s IRS Form 990, showing their year-end financial situation. Note: a provider whose expenditures match government payments will not have funds to support extra staff development or client activities. Conversely, an organization successful at fundraising will be better able to afford quality programs.

Intermediate care facilities. All ICF/MRs are licensed and inspected annually by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Consumers can call MDH (651-201-4101) for inspection results.

Consumers can also call MDH about complaint investigations done on specific group homes. MDH’s Office of Health Facility Complaints Web site, www.health.state.mn.us/, keeps a list of complaint investigations, which be searched by county, city or service provider.

Supported living services. Waiver group homes and other supported living services are licensed by the DHS, whose Licensing Division (651-296-3971) can provide information from licensing reviews (held on average every two years) and any violation correction orders. A DHS representative cautioned that it might “take a couple of days” to compile the information, as staff members are “often in the field doing reviews.” The Division hopes to have current data (from January 1, 2008) available online “within the next couple of months.”

Southeastern Minnesota resources. Consumers who live in Fillmore, Houston, Mower, Olmsted and Winona counties of Region 10 Quality Assurance (QA) can contact LeAnn Bieber, QA Manager, for the licensing recommendations for ICF/MR, employment and day training, and supported living providers. These recommendations “focus on quality outcomes of support providers.” Visit the QA Web page: www.mn-voice.org. Contact Bieber at 507-328-6607 or bieber.lean@co.olmsted.mn.us.

U of M consumer guide. Knowing what to ask can help consumers organize their search. The University of Minnesota has a free publication, Through Asking the Right Questions You Can Reach Your Destination: Questions to Ask Providers When Making Decisions about Residential Supports for Family Members with Disabilities, available at www.rtc.umn.edu/questions.

Provider professional associations. Consumers should ask whether a provider or its staff are members of a professional association. These associations help providers and their employees improve service quality by making available training, advocacy and networking opportunities and materials and promoting service standards.

Recognized associations include ARRM, an association of more than 150 Minnesota ICF/MR and waiver housing providers, and the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), a national association based in Washington, DC, which represents “private providers who provide supports and services to people with disabilities.”

For employees, professional associations include the National Association of QMRPs (NAQ), which provides resources and networking for Qualified Mental Retardation Professionals (and case managers), the Minneapolis-based National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) and the Washington DC-based American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD).

More information. PHI National Clearinghouse on the Direct Care Workforce at www.directcareclearinghouse.org lists service providers who follow “best practices” in personnel management.

Care Providers of Minnesota is a trade association based in Bloomington that hosts CareLinkUSA, a useful provider search engine, at www.carelinkusa.com/Psearch.asp Use “Facility Detail Search” option to sort services and amenities for Minnesota providers.

Send your suggestions. If you have found a strategy for evaluating housing service providers, Access Press would like to hear from you.