How to Choose a Reliable Nursing Home

Last Updated: August 2, 2019

Selecting a reliable nursing home for a parent or senior loved one is a complex decision with many important factors to consider, including their abilities, preferences, and values. The stress of this task is often compounded if your loved one is facing imminent discharge from a hospital, refusing to move into a care facility, suffering a medical crisis or unable to care for them self.How to Choose a Reliable Nursing Home

3 Steps to Take to Choose a Reliable Nursing Home

Fortunately, even in times of great stress, there are steps you can take to ensure you understand the placement process and have the tools necessary to make the best decision to meet the needs and wishes of your senior loved one.

1. Explore your options.

The internet is a great tool for finding nursing homes in your preferred area. Most care homes have a website outlining their programs and services and any other specific details that set them apart from the competition. There are also federal websites which offer a comparable rundown of nursing homes in individual states.

For example, Medicare.gov offers Nursing Home Compare, a search function that can be sorted by location (city or state or ZIP code) or name of a nursing home. This website provides an overview of every nursing home located within the search parameter and includes information such as health inspection reports, staffing levels, quality of residents’ care measurements and an overall rating.

This glance feature can identify potential red flags and help you weed out care homes with low ratings in areas that are most important to you.

Other popular comparable websites include:

  • HealthGrades.com: which provides comprehensive qualitative reports on nursing homes based on public inspection data for a small fee
  • Nursing Home Inspect, which is run by the nonprofit investigative journalism group ProPublica, and allows users to “easily search and analyze the details of recent nursing home inspections,” including viewing any citations they have received

2. Pay a visit to a nursing home.

While online research is the best way to sort through an abundance of information and narrow down your options, nothing can compare to an in-person visit to a facility to determine if it is the right fit for your senior loved one.

When scheduling a tour with a prospective nursing home, be prepared with a list of questions you would like answered. The California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, a non-profit advocacy organization that is “dedicated to improving the choices, care, and quality of life for California’s long-term care consumers” suggests bringing a Nursing Home Checklist, such as the one posted on their site. The checklist encourages you to observe specific factors that can make or break the quality of care for your loved one.

Questions on the checklist include:

  • Are fire extinguishers visible? Is there a disaster plan posted and does the facility have drills?
  • Does the facility conduct background checks before hiring staff?
  • Is privacy respected (e.g., knocking on doors before entering rooms, keeping privacy curtains drawn while care is being given)?
  • Is there adequate staff? What is the staff to resident ratio?
  • Who should be contacted when there is a problem?

AARP, a nonpartisan organization that “helps people 50 and older improve the quality of their lives,” suggests using your five senses to assess the condition of the facility and its residents. Assessing how the food looks and tastes, what sounds you hear, what the facility smells like and how the staff interacts with one another can help you determine the fitness of the facility. Also, visiting during dinner, during a shift change or on weekends when staffing levels are lower, is a good way to gauge the level of care offered.

An article published in the Wall Street Journal suggests visiting a prospective nursing home “repeatedly and without warning,” to get a sense of how things run, especially when circumstances are less than ideal.

3. Think over these four things before you make your decision.

Lastly, there are a few final important factors to consider when deciding on a reliable nursing home for your senior loved one, including:

  • Cost and Medicare Considerations
  • Emergency Plan
    • Does the facility have a generator in the event of power loss? Do the residents participate in emergency preparedness training and drills?
  • Location
    • Consider proximity to family members and whether your loved one will remain within their local community
  • Special Needs
    • Does your loved one have a special condition, hobby or personality trait that should be considered?

Placing a parent or senior loved one in a nursing home is never an easy decision. However, by doing your homework and selecting an engaging, safe and reliable nursing home, you will have peace of mind that you have made the best decision possible for your loved one.

How did you find a reliable nursing home for yourself or a loved one? What other tips would you like to see added to this list? We’d like to hear your stories and suggestions in the comments below.

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