Information, like pesticide, is a godsend for those feeling plagued, but a real plague for those who do their dirty work in the shadows. When Utah began publishing health reports on Utah restaurants, those with nothing to hide were happy, others were miffed. It has been the same for ranking schoolteachers, listing complaints about car dealerships and — if a new 5-star rating system for nursing homes goes into effect — a fresh round of cheers and squawks will come from the shady rest home landlords.

The Bush administration plan would put pressure on second-rate facilities to upgrade and would be a boon to those who honestly have the welfare of nursing home residents at heart. Other quality-of-life concerns — such as the lack of sprinkling systems in many homes — will be addressed by 2013.

For aging baby boomers who either have relatives in homes or find themselves tiptoeing that direction themselves, the Bush initiative is welcome news. Just as the "star system" tends to drum sleazy hotels out of business and keep reputable establishments trying hard, the new system for nursing homes would ease some of the anxiety from a situation that is often filled with trauma and angst. The less pressure and pain the better. The rating system will alleviate a degree of both.

Currently, there are 16,000 nursing homes in the United States serving 3 million residents. Rating them all will require manpower and money but has the earmarks of a worthy endeavor. The star ratings will be based on inspection results, percentage of residents with bedsores and other ills and input from the staff over the previous three years. A home can crawl off the bad list by upgrading over 36 months. Still, the system is designed to be simply an aid. Other concerns — such as proximity to transportation centers, cost and the attitude of staff and administrators — are factors that each consumer must weigh personally.

Undoubtedly there will be bugs in the system to be worked out. But if the ratings help eliminate the bugs from nursing homes themselves, the investment of funds and time will be worth it.