The U.S. attorney for eastern Virginia yesterday released the names of seven nursing homes that have settled federal charges of providing substandard care, saying he was wrong when he recently called the agreements confidential.

The earlier comment -- which prompted strong rebukes from nursing-home patient advocates -- was the result of a former employee providing U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty with erroneous information about the status of the settlements, a spokesman for McNulty said.

An assistant U.S. attorney working with an outdated list advised McNulty that the settlements were still being negotiated and therefore were not public, said spokesman Frank R. Shults. "The information was completely wrong. The settlement agreements are not confidential. They're public," he said.

The U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria is looking at how to make the settlements known to consumers, including the possibility of posting them on the office's Web site, as several U.S. attorneys elsewhere have done.

"It's safe to say the U.S. attorney is considering ways to make such settlement agreements public in a timely manner," Shults said. The Washington Post reported Monday that McNulty's office declined to release the agreements and names of the nursing homes without obtaining the permission of the facilities' owners. "Consequences of publicity have to be taken into consideration," he said at the time.

Of the seven nursing homes that Shults said agreed to settlements between 2002 and 2004, three were in Northern Virginia: Woodbine Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center and Oak Meadow Nursing Center, both in Alexandria, as well as Leewood Healthcare Center in Annandale. The others were Beverly Healthcare of Fredericksburg, Chippenham Manor Nursing Home in Richmond (now known as Ruxton Health Care of Stratford Hills), Ashland Convalescent Center in Ashland and Warsaw Health Care Center in Warsaw.

"We're happy to get this behind us," Leewood administrator Ken DeFoor said. Officials for the other nursing homes either declined to comment or did not respond to phone calls seeking a response.

Shults said that McNulty assumed the settlements were still open and could not be released. "We were giving him information that was wrong," Shults said.

Patient advocates said that keeping the agreements secret would hurt consumers looking to select a nursing home. The lengthy documents include details about the quality of care provided by facilities, including deficiencies ranging from inadequate staffing to patient injuries. In some cases as part of the agreements, owners have agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines or to hire consultants to monitor care.