Vol. 52, No. 3, 2012
Cite journal as: The Gerontologist Vol. 52, No. 3, 335–344
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Advance Access publication on January 9, 2012
Purpose of the study: This study examines
urban–rural differences in end-of-life (EOL) quality of
care provided to nursing home (NH) residents. Data
and Methods: We constructed 3 risk-adjusted
EOL quality measures (QMs) for long-term decedent
residents: in-hospital death, hospice referral before
death, and presence of severe pain. We used
CY2005-2007 100% Minimum Data Set, Medicare
beneficiary file, and inpatient and hospice claims.
Logistic regression models were estimated to predict
the probability of each outcome conditional on dece-
dents’ risk factors. For each facility, QMs were calcu-
lated as the difference between the actual and the
expected risk-adjusted outcome rates. We fit multi-
variate linear regression models, with fixed state
effects, for each QM to assess the association with
urban–rural location. Results: We found urban–
rural differences for in-hospital death and hospice
QMs, but not for pain. Compared with NHs located
in urban areas, facilities in smaller towns and in iso-
lated rural areas have significantly (p < .001) worse
EOL quality for in-hospital death and hospice use.
Whereas the differences in these QMs are statisti-
cally significant between facilities located in large
versus small towns, they are not statistically significant
between facilities located in small towns and isolated
rural areas. Implications: This study provides
empirical evidence for urban–rural differences in
EOL quality of care using a national sample of NHs.
Identifying differences is a necessary first step toward
improving care for dying NH residents and for bridging
the urban–rural gap.
Key Words: Nursing homes, Quality of care, Rural &
The last two decades have witnessed important
changes in the provision of end-of-life (EOL) health
services to older Americans. During this time, the
proportion of Americans dying in nursing homes
(NHs) has increased from 16% in 1990 to 25% in
2001 (Brown Atlas, 2001) and is projected
to grow to 40% by 2020 (Christopher, 2000).
Research focusing on NH EOL care suggests that
residents’ need for pain management (Teno, Bird, &
Mor, 2007) as well as their and their families’
expectations about EOL treatments (Hanson,
Danis, & Garrett, 1997) often have not been met.
For example, only 30% of decedent NH residents
had received hospice care and most just briefly
prior to death (Miller, Gozalo, & Mor, 2010). At
the same time, the risk of in-hospital deaths among
NH decedents has continued to increase (Temkin-
Greener, Zheng, & Mukamel, 2010). With NHs
becoming a major setting in the provision of EOL
care, concerns about care quality they provide
continue to mount (Huskamp et al., 2010; Meier,
Lim, & Carlson, 2010).
In the midst of these changes, geographic varia-
tions have remained the only constant as research
Rural–Urban Differences in End-of-Life Nursing
Home Care: Facility and Environmental Factors
Helena Temkin-Greener, PhD,*,1 Nan Tracy Zheng, PhD,2 and
Dana B. Mukamel, PhD3
1Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Rochester, New York.
2RTI International, Waltham, Massachusetts.
3Department of Medicine, Health Policy and Research Institute, University of California, Irvine.
*Address correspondence to Helena Temkin-Greener, PhD, Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine and Dentistry.
University of Rochester, 265 Crittenden Boulevard, CU 420644, Rochester, NY 14642. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Received August 18, 2011; Accepted November 14, 2011
Decision Editor: Rachel Pruchno, PhD
The Gerontologist 336
continues to show that the care EOL patients receive
depends largely on where they reside (Goodman,
Esty, Fisher, & Chang, 2011). To date, research
on urban–rural differences in NHs has been sparse,
focusing largely on issues of access and utilization
but rarely on facility-level quality differences (Kang,
Meng, & Miller, 2011; Phillips, Holan, Sherman,
Williams, & Hawes, 2004). Only a handful of stud-
ies have focused on urban–rural NH differences at
the EOL. Based on a sample of residents with
severe dementia, those living in rural NHs had
lower intensity of medical care (Gessert, Haller,
Kane, & Degenholtz, 2006), including feeding tube
use (Gessert & Calkins, 2001) at the EOL. Residents
with end-stage disease, living in rural NHs, were
more likely to report frequent pain (Bolin, Phillips, &
Hawes, 2006). Compared with their urban coun-
terparts, NH residents in rural areas have increased
odds of being transferred to acute care hospitals at
the EOL (Menec, Nowicki, & Kalischuk, 2010).
Much still remains to be learned about urban–rural
differences in EOL care provision and quality.
In this study, we examined urban–rural dif-
ferences in EOL quality of care provided to NH
residents. We focused on three risk-adjusted mea-
sures of EOL quality: use of hospice, in-hospital
death, and presence of severe pain. Hospice enroll-
ment prior to death has been identified as a desirable
outcome and a mechanism for improving EOL care
quality (Gozalo & Miller, 2007; Teno et al., 2011).
Studies have demonstrated that for NH residents,
access to hospice may be more influenced by the
facility and its location (Zerzan, Stearns, & Hanson,
2000), and by staff members’ ability to recognize
terminal decline, knowledge about hospice, and
belief in its efficacy (Welch, Miller, Martin, & Nanda,
2008), than by the residents’ treatment preferences.
For long-term NH residents, in-hospital deaths are
often considered inappropriate and a marker for
poor EOL quality of care; almost half of hospitali-
zations leading to in-hospital deaths are potentially
avoidable (Saliba et al., 2000) and are often incon-
sistent with residents’ preferences (Dobalian, 2004).
Pain has long been endorsed as an important
and highly prevalent measure for EOL quality of
care (Teno et al., 2007), one that is highly depen-
dent on the care provided, and correctable through
proper assessment, treatment, and monitoring.
With regard to these EOL quality measures (QMs),
we addressed the following questions: (a) are
there urban–rural differences in risk-adjusted EOL
quality of care provided to decedent NH resi-
dents? and (b) if differences exist, what facility
Figure 1. Conceptual framework: An ecological model.
and environmental (market) characteristics help
to explain them?
Conceptual Framework: An Ecological Model
Our conceptual model can be summarized, with
regard to each QM, as a function of facility char-
acteristics, location, and environmental factors indi-
cating service supply and distance (Figure 1). This
model is derived from an ecological framework
(Bronfenbrenner, 1986) and has been previously
used to examine how various levels of factors
influence EOL care in NHs (Blevins & Deason-
Howell, 2002). This framework views individuals
within a system of coexisting and interrelated envi-
ronments (domains) each of which may influence
EOL care quality. The individual (micro-social)
environment refers to individuals’ characteristics,
attitudes, and treatment preferences. The organi-
zational (mezzo-social) environment refers to the
characteristics of facilities. The environmental
(macro-social) domain refers to the geographic loca-
tion of facilities and their proximity to and the
availability of services. Motivated by this frame-
work, and based on prior research, we included
individual resident characteristics in developing
EOL QMs and NH and county-level factors in
order to examine the relationships between these
levels and care quality.
Although a set of QMs is now posted quarterly
on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’
(CMS) website, allowing the public to assess NHs
on specific quality indicators, none of the QMs
available today specifically address EOL quality.
Only two measures—pain and depression—focus on
Vol. 52, No. 3, 2012337
symptoms that are also associated with EOL, as
identified by the American Geriatrics Society, the
Institute of Medicine, and the National Consensus
Project for Quality of Palliative Care. However,
neither of these quality indicators are measured on
or reported specifically for EOL residents.
In selecting EOL QMs we focused on those that
(a) address an effect of importance to EOL resi-
dents, (b) are affected by clinical care provided,
and (c) can account for residents’ risks over which
the NH has no control (Mukamel & Brower, 1998).
The EOL QMs we examined in this study met
these criteria. Numerous studies have documented
that recognition and alleviation of pain is clearly a
desirable outcome of major importance to NH
residents, including those at the EOL (Lorenz,
Rosenfeld, & Wenger, 2007). At the EOL, less
aggressive treatments that do not result in in-
hospital death and greater use of hospice care have
been shown to be consistent with better quality of
care (Saliba et al., 2005a, 2005b). These two QMs
were of particular interest because they may be
sensitive to NH location (Gessert et al., 2006).
Since raw outcome rates are a function of both the
residents’ risks and quality of care provided, quality
may only be inferred from risk-adjusted rates
(Mukamel et al., 2008a). Therefore, in construct-
ing risk-adjusted QMs, we included information
about residents’ relevant demographic and health
status factors based on the last health assessment
prior to death.
Study Design and Data Sources
We used individual, facility, and county data
for CY2005-2007 (except as noted) obtained from
nine national data sources. These included 100%
Medicare denominator file, 100% Minimum Data
Set (MDS), 100% Medicare Standard Analytical
Files for inpatient and hospice claims, the Area
Resource File (ARF) for 2007, the Provider of Service
(POS) file for the third quarter of 2007, the zip code
level Rural–Urban Commuting Area Codes (RUCA),
and the Brown University’s Long-Term Care Facts
The study sample consisted of decedent long-term
NH residents aged 65 or older. We focused on
long-term residents because typically postacute
residents stay in NHs for a short period of time
and are expected to return to the community. For
them, death is not an expected outcome, and
although it does occur, it is viewed as a failure of
care. The Medicare denominator files were used to
identify beneficiaries who died between January 1,
2005, and December 31, 2007. The MDS was used
to select decedents who had an NH stay within
8 days prior to death, that is, who died in an NH
or shortly after discharge or transfer to a different
care setting. The MDS is a federally mandated
process for clinical assessment of residents in
Medicare and Medicaid certified NHs. It contains
information on residents’ sociodemographics and
health status at admission and at predetermined
intervals thereafter or when health status signifi-
cantly changes. The finder file of decedents with a
prior NH stay was used to select all of their MDS
assessments as well as inpatient hospital and hos-
Facility-level characteristics were obtained from
the RUCA files, the POS, and the Brown University
Facts website and were linked using the unique
Medicare provider number and zip code. County-
level characteristics were obtained from the ARF
We identified 963,313 Medicare eligible, aged
65+, decedent long-term NH residents who died
between January 1, 2005, and December 31, 2007,
and who resided in a Medicare and/or Medicaid
certified facility (n = 15,954). Long-term residents
were defined as those whose stay was not Medicare
reimbursable or who stayed longer than 90 days.
We excluded 2,748 facilities, which could not
be linked to the POS (n = 211); had missing zip
codes and/or could not be assigned to a RUCA
area (n = 908); were missing a case-mix index (n =
192); or had fewer than 20 decedents (n = 1,437),
as QMs based on small sample size may not be
reliable (Mukamel et al., 2008a) Our analytical
sample consisted of 915,688 decedent long-term
residents (95% of all eligible decedents) from 13,206
Outcome Variables.—We constructed three EOL
outcome measures. Place of death (POD), was
defined as dichotomous (1 if death occurred in a
hospital, zero otherwise). Use of hospice obtained
the value of 1 if the decedent used NH hospice
within last 100 days of life and zero otherwise.
Pain was identified as present (value of 1) if resident
experienced moderate pain daily or excruciating
pain at any frequency, based on the last MDS
assessment prior to death; otherwise pain obtained
the value of zero.
Key Variables of Interest.—Urban–rural NH
location was the variable of interest. Each facility
was assigned a RUCA code, based on the NH’s zip
code and the commuting patterns for the popula-
tion residing in this zip code. Based on the RUCA
codes, NHs were categorized as urban (i.e., city
with a population >50,000 and its commuting
area), large town (i.e., population of 10,000–
49,999 and its commuting area), small town (i.e.,
population of 2,500–9,999 with some people com-
muting to an urban cluster), and isolated rural
(i.e., fewer than 2,500 residents, primarily com-
muting to a tract outside an urban area or cluster).
These four categories have been commonly used in
other health-related studies (http://depts.washington.
Other Control Variables.—All other control
variables were categorized as individual-level risk
factors, facility-level characteristics, and environ-
Individual-level risk factors. We employed
individual risk factors previously identified in
developing EOL QMs for hospice use, in-hospital
death (Mukamel, et al., 2011)., and pain. The risk
factors were based on the information available in
the MDS (version 2.0), and the following criteria
were used in selecting them: (a) a characteristic
likely to affect the outcome of interest and (b) a
characteristic that is not likely to be influenced by
the practice style of the facility (Mukamel, 1997).
All risk factors were identified from the last
MDS assessment prior to death. Because the MDS
assessments are mandated to occur every 90 days,
they are not correlated with the date of death
assuring that residents’ risk factors are randomly
distributed during the EOL period. In our sample,
the median time between the last assessment and
death was 34 days; 25th and 75th percentiles were
14 and 61 days, respectively.
MDS assessments may be categorized as full
(e.g., admission, annual, change of status) or
partial (e.g., quarterly), depending on whether they
include all available information on a resident or a
subset. When the last MDS assessment was not a
full assessment, some variables, for example, those
indicating presence of a chronic illness, were
imputed from a prior full assessment because such
conditions were not likely to change between
assessments. However, conditions of a more tran-
sient nature (e.g., pneumonia) could not and were
not imputed from a prior record. This difference in
the availability of information by assessment type
required us to estimate separate risk-adjustment
models depending on the type of assessment avail-
able prior to death. Risk factors that were included
in the risk-adjustment models were presented in
Facility-level characteristics. We constructed
several variables reflecting facility characteristics
that may be associated with the outcomes of in-
terest. Studies have suggested that facility owner-
ship and chain membership may influence EOL
care. We defined both of these characteristics as
dichotomous variables. It has been shown that
the intensity of nurse staffing is directly related to
the quality of EOL care in NHs (Temkin-Greener
et al., 2009). We defined staffing capacity as the
total number of nurse hr/resident/day (of reg-
istered nurses—RN, licensed practical nurses—
LPN, and certified nurse assistants—CNA) and
skilled care mix as the ratio of RN hours to LPN
and CNA hours combined. Based on the litera-
ture, we included variables representing volume
of residents—measured as facility bed size multi-
plied by its occupancy rate, residents’ acuity—
measured by case mix at admission, and a proxy
for facility resources—measured by percent of
residents with Medicare or Medicaid as a primary
payer (Cai, Mukamel, Veazie, Katz, & Temkin-
Environmental factors. The environment with-
in which each NH is located was characterized by
the number of hospice providers in the county,
number of hospital beds per 100 people aged 65 and
older in the county, and distance (spatial distance
between the centroids of zip codes) from an NH
to closest hospice and hospital.
The statistical analyses were performed in three
steps. First, we estimated separate risk adjustment
models for each outcome (pain, in-hospital death,
hospice), with the selected set of risk factors for
each assessment type. These risk adjustment models
were examined for face, content, and construct
Vol. 52, No. 3, 2012339
validity in our prior work (Mukamel, et al.,
2011). Logistic regression models were fit at the
individual resident level with random facility
effects to account for resident clustering at the
facility level. Risk factors with p values at .2 or
greater were excluded from the final models, and
an F test was used to examine their joint signifi-
cance. The goodness of fit of the models was
assessed by the C statistic. These models were used
to predict, for each resident, the probability of
each outcome conditional on the individual risk
In the second step, we constructed a QM for
each outcome. Each QM was defined as the
difference between the actual (observed) facility
outcome rate and the expected risk-adjusted
outcome rate. The latter was calculated as the
average of the predicted probabilities for all res-
idents, given their risk factors and the available
In the third step, we fit three multivariable
regression models, with state fixed effects, for
each QM. In each model, we included urban–rural
status, facility-specific factors, and environmental
Are There Urban–Rural Differences in EOL
Most NHs were located in urban areas (n = 8,915),
with 1,938 located in large towns and 1,567 and
1,182 in small towns and isolated rural areas,
respectively. Analysis of facility-level characteris-
tics indicated statistically significant (p < .001) dif-
ferences between urban–rural NHs with regard to
each of the three unadjusted outcomes (Table 1).
Prevalence of hospice use increased from 19.08%
in isolated rural facilities to 21.71% in small town
facilities and to 24.32% and 37.15% in large town
and urban areas, respectively. On the other hand,
prevalence of in-hospital deaths was the highest in
small town facilities (19.51%) and lowest in urban
areas (16.81%). Similarly, prevalence of severe pain
Table 1. Study Population Characteristics (n = 13,206 nursing homes)
Urban focused Large rural focused
focused Isolated rural
n = 8,519
n = 1,938
n = 1,567
n = 1,182
M SDM SDM SDM SD
Quality measures (O-E)
Prevalence of severe pain
Observed prevalence (%)
Prevalence of severe pain
Admission case mix
RN/CNA + LPN ratio (%)
Total nurse hr/resident/day
Beds × Occupancy
% For-profit (ownership)
% Chain membership
No. of hospice providers
in the county
No. of hospital beds per
100 people 65+
Distance to a hospice (miles)
Distance to a hospital (miles)
Note: aBased on analysis of variance. CNA = certified nurse assistants; LPN = licensed practical nurses; O-E = observed-
expected outcome rate; RN = registered nurses.
2.720 × 10−3
4.192 × 10−3
The Gerontologist 340
was lowest (13.14%) in urban NHs compared
with rural facilities.
Depending on their location, NHs also dif-
fered with regard to other characteristics. For
example, facilities in the more urbanized areas
had more nursing staff and more highly skilled
staff (i.e., higher RN ratio) compared with NHs
in more rural areas. Compared with NHs located
in isolated rural areas, urban facilities were more
likely to be for-profit (72.54% vs. 54.17%), have
chain membership (55.52% vs. 48.39%), be
larger (111.32 residents vs. 61.26), and had
fewer Medicaid residents (61.40% vs. 64.43%).
Furthermore, there were significant differences in
the number of hospice providers (9.60 vs. 0.55)
and in the availability of hospital beds (4.51 vs.
2.72) in urban compared with the isolated rural
The distribution of risk-adjusted EOL QMs is
presented in Figure 2. The risk adjustment models
for all outcomes and all assessment types are pre-
sented in Supplementary Material. All models had
similar goodness of fit, with C statistics ranging
between 0.634 and 0.716, values that are typical
for risk adjustment models of NH outcomes based
on the MDS (Mukamel, 1997).
The left-most panel in Figure 2 shows the distri-
bution of hospice QM. With the average of 0.07
and the standard deviation of 0.22, this QM showed
substantial variations across NHs. Since risk-
adjusted hospice enrollment is considered to be a
desirable outcome, QM values greater than zero
indicate better quality. Compared with the national
average, facilities located in the urban areas had
significantly higher quality with regard to EOL
hospice use (average = 0.12; SD = 0.21), whereas
facilities in more rural areas had increasingly
poorer quality (e.g., average for isolated rural
facilities is −0.06; SD = 0.21). Differences in this
QM were statistically significant (p < .001) in
facilities located in urban compared with rural
In the remaining two panels (Figure 2), we depicted
the distribution of QMs for in-hospital death and
presence of severe pain. The national average of
the in-hospital death QM was 0.01 and of pain
was 0.02. With standard deviations of 0.09 and
0.08, respectively, in-hospital death and pain QMs
showed less variability across facilities than hospice
QM. Unlike hospice, in-hospital death and pres-
ence of severe pain are considered to be undesirable
outcomes; thus, QM values lower than zero indicate
better quality. There were statistically significant
(p < .001) differences in these QMs based on facility
What Facility/Environmental Factors Explain
Urban–Rural Differences in EOL QMs?
The results of the multivariable regression
model indicated that NHs located in more rural
areas had significantly worse hospice QM com-
pared with facilities in the urban areas (Table 2),
even after adjusting for the effects of other
covariates and the state fixed effects. For example,
compared with urban NHs, facilities in large
towns had significantly worse hospice QM
(lower use; b = −.108), controlling for other condi-
tions. The same statistically significant and
monotonic relationship was observed when
facilities located in small towns (b = −.132) and
in isolated rural areas (b = −.143) were com-
pared with NHs in urban areas. Although the
difference in the hospice QM was not statisti-
cally significant between NHs in the isolated
Figure 2. Distribution of facility-level end-of-life quality measures.
Vol. 52, No. 3, 2012341
rural areas and those in small towns (p = .173),
it was significant between facilities located in
small and large towns.
With regard to in-hospital deaths, NHs in less-
urbanized areas showed poorer QMs (Table 2).
Compared with urban-based facilities, those located
in large (b = .013), small (b = .026), and isolated
rural (b = .023) areas had significantly worse hospital
QMs (more in-hospital deaths), controlling for
all other conditions. Although differences in QMs
between large and small towns were statistically
significant, the difference between isolated rural
and small town areas was not.
We found no statistically significant differences
across facilities in severe pain QM based on location.
Several facility and environmental factors
were statistically significant predictors of the
QMs of interest. Regardless of the location, NHs
with higher admission case mix had significantly
lower use of hospice (b = −.173) and were more
likely to have residents who died in a hospital
(b = .040). Facilities with higher skilled care mix
(RN/CNA + LPN ratio) were less likely to use
hospice (b = −.014) but more likely to have had
fewer residents dying in hospitals (b = −.005).
We found significant relationship between the
proportion of residents who were Medicaid and
Medicare and all three QMs, but these associa-
tions, although statistically significant, tended to
have very small coefficients. Overall, for-profit
facilities appeared to use more hospice (b = .034)
and had fewer residents with severe pain
(b = −.006; better QMs) and more in-hospital
deaths (b = .007; worse QM) compared with
not-for-profit NHs. Facilities with chain mem-
bership were similar to the for-profits with
regard to hospice and pain QMs but had better
in-hospital death QMs (b = −.008).
Several environmental factors were indepen-
dently associated with EOL QMs. NHs located in
counties with higher number of hospice providers
had better hospice QMs (b = .001) and better pain
QMs (b = −.001). NHs in counties with higher
availability of hospital beds had worse hospital
death QMs (b = .001). When distance between
an NH and a hospital was longer, in-hospital
death QMs were better (fewer in-hospital deaths;
b = −.010).
Table 2. Characteristics Predicting Quality Measures for Hospice, In-hospital Death, and Severe Pain: Multivariable Models
With State Fixed Effects
Hospice O-EIn-hospital death O-E Severe pain O-E
Ref = urban focused
Large rural focused
Small rural focused
Admission case mix
RN/CNA + LPN ratio (per 10% increase)
Total nurse hours per resident per day
Beds × Occupancy (per 10 increase)
% Medicaid (per 10% increase)
% Medicare (per 10% increase)
% For-profit (ownership)
% Chain membership
No. of hospice providers in the county
No. of hospital beds per 100 people 65+
Distance to a hospice (per 10 mile increase)
Distance to a hospital (per 10 mile increase)
2.449 × 10−4
1.678 × 10−4
1.932 × 10−4
.973 × 10−4
4.911 × 10−4
2.023 × 10−4
Notes: Hospice is a desirable outcome, whereas in-hospital death and pain are not desirable. CNA = certified nurse assistants;
LPN = licensed practical nurses; O-E=observed-expected outcome rate; RN = registered nurses.
aDifference between small rural and large rural is significant (p < .001).
bDifference between small rural and large rural is significant (p < .001).
cDifference between small rural and large rural is not significant (p = .678).
dDifference between isolated rural and small rural is not significant (p = .173).
eDifference between isolated rural and small rural is not significant (p = .438).
fDifference between isolated rural and small rural is not significant (p = .718).
The Gerontologist 342
Our findings suggest that geography may, in
some instances, indeed be destiny as the quality of
EOL care in NHs depends to a very large extent on
where the facility is located. Adjusting for residents’
health status and preferences at the EOL, we
explored the interrelationships between three EOL
QMs and facility location, its structural and orga-
nizational characteristics, and the environmental/
market factors. We found that of the three QMs
only one, pain, showed no difference with regard
to locality, whereas the other two measures, hos-
pice enrollment and in-hospital death, suggested
better quality in urban NHs. Providing explana-
tions for this phenomenon is beyond the scope of
this paper and would require additional and a
different type of research, but we offer several
scenarios that might shed some light on the differ-
ences we observed and help guide future research.
We detected no statistically significant differ-
ences between rural and urban NHs in the pain
QM. Research has demonstrated that NH workers
are largely not sufficiently trained to recognize EOL
symptoms, including pain, or to provide palliative/
EOL care (Zimmerman, Sloan, Hanson, Mitchell, &
Shy, 2003). Our findings suggest that any deficiencies
in such training may be similarly distributed across
the urban–rural continuum. We also note that the
pain QM reported in the NH Compare web-based
report card published by CMS, was one of the few
QM showing improvement following publication
(Mukamel, Weimer, Spector, Ladd, & Zinn, 2008b).
The attention paid to this outcome and the overall
improvement in it might explain why we did not
observe any urban–rural differential as facilities,
regardless of locality, may have similar opportu-
nities to improve this QM.
The in-hospital death QM suggests that rural
NHs may have been more likely to hospitalize
their residents prior to death compared with their
urban counterparts, even after controlling for other
facility and resident characteristics, including
the presence of the do-not-hospitalize orders. This
finding appears to be partially consistent with prior
research. Gessert and colleagues (2006) reported
that NH decedents with cognitive impairment, living
in rural facilities, were more likely to be hospital-
ized at the EOL than their urban counterparts and
received higher intensity of medical care.
Like the pain QM, the decision to hospitalize
is to a large degree under the control of the facility
and is thought to reflect ingrained practice styles
(Grabowski, Stewart, Broderick, & Coots, 2008).
The systematic differences between rural and
urban NHs, with regard to this QM, may be
attributed to lower staffing, particularly of RNs,
in rural facilities (although we controlled for
this in our model, there might still be second
order effects that remain unaccounted) or possi-
bly a lower availability of physicians, which we
did not explicitly control for in our analysis (due to
lack of data).
The hospice QM is different from the pain and
place of death QMs because it is not completely
under the control of the NH but also depends on
residents’ and their family members’ preferences
and on the availability of this service in the com-
munity. For example, some have suggested that
black residents are less likely to use hospice because
they (or their family members) prefer more aggres-
sive EOL treatment (Kwak, Haley, & Chiriboga,
2008). However, it has also been shown that
although within the same facility, there may be no
Black–White differentials with regard to hospice
use, facilities that disproportionately serve minority
residents do have lower rates of hospice use com-
pared with the more racially balanced NHs (Zheng,
Mukamel, Cai, & Temkin-Greener, 2011); a pattern
that may also reflect differences in NH practice
With respect to service availability, urban areas
are likely to have a larger supply of hospice pro-
viders and closer proximity of those provides to
NHs, thus decreasing potential barriers to hospice
utilization. Indeed, we found that residents in urban
NHs were more likely to enroll in hospice, even
after controlling for all other individual and facil-
We are not aware of other studies that specifi-
cally examined urban–rural differences in hospice
use in NHs. However, rates of hospice use by
Medicare beneficiaries at large have been previ-
ously shown to be significantly lower (by 56%) in
isolated rural compared with urban areas (Virnig,
Moscovice, Durham, & Casey, 2004). Most studies
have attributed such differences to limited access
to hospice in rural compared with urban areas
(Virnig, Hartman, Moscovice, & Carlin, 2006).
But the more recent studies, which better reflect
the substantial growth among hospice providers,
suggest that although variations in access continue
to exist, geographic access to hospice care is now
widespread throughout the United States (Carlson,
Bradley, Du, & Morrison, 2010). Although NHs
Vol. 52, No. 3, 2012343
in rural areas tend to have a significantly longer
distance to hospice, we did not find distance to
be a statistically significant factor in explaining
hospice enrollment. However, it is possible that in
rural locations our measure of distance was not
sufficiently sensitive to detect barriers that location
and availability of providers may present. It is not
clear to what extent differences in NH hospice
use reflect differentials in practice patterns or
access to hospice services that are specific to facility
Overall, research comparing the quality of care
in urban–rural NHs has been scarce. A study by
Phillips and colleagues (2004) employed several
measures of quality among long-term residents and
concluded “one sees arguably better outcomes of
care for residents in homes located in isolated
areas.” With regard to EOL quality of care, our
findings demonstrated the opposite, that is, rural
NHs perform significantly worse than urban NHs
on QMs indicating more aggressive treatment.
This apparent contradiction is not, however,
totally unexpected as lack of correlation between
performance measures for different outcomes has
been well documented in NHs as well as in other
long-term care settings.
The differences we observed in urban–rural prac-
tice patterns may well be a function of resources
and organizational relationships, which nursing
facilities maintain, by choice or by necessity, with
other health care providers. Several factors, such
as lower staffing, lower physician availability, and
greater reliance on Medicaid revenues (indicating
fewer resources) may reduce the capacity of rural
NHs to provide care for residents whose health is
failing, thus lowering the threshold for transfer-
ring residents to hospitals where they subsequently
die. It has been suggested that rural NHs are more
likely than urban to have administrative relation-
ships with acute care hospitals (Shah, Fennell, &
Mor, 2001). Such affiliations may provide increased
opportunities for or pressures on rural NHs to
hospitalize their residents, including at the EOL.
These may be more pronounced when the two types
of facilities are colocated or within a relatively short
distance of each other. Indeed, as our findings sug-
gest, as distance between NHs and hospitals increased
the in-hospital death QM significantly decreased.
Hospice requires physician referral, and while
this is not unique to rural areas, physician shortage
and high physician turnover are. Thus, rural NHs
may face additional obstacles referring their resi-
dents to hospice. NHs’ relationship with hospice
may be further complicated in rural areas as Medi-
care hospice payments there are substantially lower
than in urban hospices, adjusting for wage differ-
ences (MedPac, 2004). However, these payments
are not adjusted for other factors such as higher
transportation costs that may be faced by rural
hospice providers. Furthermore, compared with
urban hospices, rural hospices are more likely to
be smaller, hospital-based, and owned (Virnig et al.,
2004). They may have less capacity to provide
on-site care in NHs, thus requiring rural NHs to
transfer their failing residents out of the facility for
Several limitations of this study should be
acknowledged. As always, there is a threat of omitted
variable bias. However, we included many impor-
tant predictors of NH quality at the individual,
facility, and county levels. We accounted for the
number of hospice providers and distance but
not for their capacity to provide care. It is possible
that rural hospices are smaller, rely more heavily
on part-time employees, face greater challenges
recruiting and retaining staff and may thus have
lower capacity to provide sufficient care to nearby
NHs. Although we included as risk adjustors infor-
mation on residents’ preferences for hospital treat-
ment and for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, we
could not account in this study for preferences
of the residents’ family members, which are well
known to often supersede the residents’ wishes,
especially when advance directives are not clearly
written and are subject to interpretation.
In conclusion, our analysis suggests that com-
pared with residents of urban NHs, individuals
residing in rural facilities may be receiving poorer
EOL quality of care with regard to hospice use and
in-hospital death. Further research is needed to
identify the reasons behind these differentials
in order to develop specific strategies for bridging
We gratefully acknowledge funding support from the National Institute
of Nursing Research grant NR010727.
Supplementary material can be found at: http://gerontologist.oxford
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