Government oversight of long-term care involves inspections of patients' records, limited observations of patients and care practices, reviews of policies and procedures, and distribution of publicly available information. Although many providers bemoan the stifling consequences of excessive regulation, oversight in this area remains a highly legitimate endeavor for the public, though the public has limited trust in the existing regulatory regime. This distrust stems from many sources, not least of which includes considerable variation, both within and across states, in the way government oversight occurs. Reforming the current regulatory structure requires that we regulate “smarter” and more consistently. This means improving and maximizing use of the data already being collected, but it also means explicitly rationalizing the regulator's responsibility to review performance and apply sanctions when necessary. Oversight should more closely resemble consultancy, with regulators sharing information with providers about how to improve quality. Ideally, there needs to be an iterative process in which state inspectors identify performance problems and the nation's quality improvement organizations then help providers design quality improvement interventions to ameliorate the problems identified. The benefits of a revised regulatory approach are especially apparent in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where more effective oversight would have identified nursing home residents at risk for low-quality care before the disaster occurred while better identifying those in need of evacuation or assistance afterward.

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