Tips on choosing a nursing home

While there is no way to guarantee that nothing will go wrong in a nursing home, some careful research and planning can help reassure you or your loved ones that you’ve made a good choice. Here are some things to consider when looking for a facility:

Location. No single factor is more important to the quality of care and quality of life of a nursing home resident than visits by family members. Care is often better if the facility knows someone is watching and cares. Moreover, visits can be the high point of the day or week for the nursing home resident. So make it as easy as possible for family members and friends to visit.

Special needs. Make sure the facility can meet any special needs the resident may have, including psychiatric care or extra supervision. If your family member has dementia, the facility will need to be able to handle this. Make sure that there is enough staff (especially at night), that the staff is properly trained to care for dementia sufferers, and that specific staff members are assigned to look after particular residents.

Personal needs. Can the facility meet personal needs, such as religious preferences? Also, if the resident speaks a language other than English, are there staff members available who speak the same language?

References. Ask the facility to provide the names of family members of residents so you can ask them about the care provided in the facility and the staff’s responsiveness when the resident or a relative raises concerns.

Interview the administration and staff. Discuss with the nursing home administrator or nursing staff how care plans are developed for residents and how the staff respond to concerns expressed by family members. Make sure you’re comfortable with the responses. It’s best to meet not just the person marketing the facility but the people actually responsible for care.

Tour the nursing home. Try not to be impressed by a fancy lobby or put off by an older, more rundown facility. What matters most is the quality of care and the interactions between staff and residents. See what you pick up about how the staff relates to residents, how well residents are attended to, and whether they are treated with respect. Be sure to investigate the quality of the food service. Eating can be a pleasure that continues even when we’re unable to enjoy much else!

Do research. Medicare’s “Nursing Home Compare” website ( ranks nursing homes from one to five stars on a number of criteria such as staffing and health inspection findings. These rankings compare the home you’re considering to other homes in the same state. (However, be aware that you can’t use them to compare homes in different states. A “four-star” home in one state might not be as good as a “three-star” home in a neighboring state, if the neighboring state has better overall facilities and a tougher health inspection system.)

As part of your research, find out who owns the facility. If the company owns other nursing homes, look up the rankings for those facilities as well.

Lastly, talk to the state’s long-term care ombudsman to find out if there have been complaints against the nursing homes you’re considering.

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