Choosing a nursing home for a loved one can be a trying experience. Often, one is fortunate to have a few weeks to make a decision. Sometimes, people are suddenly moved to a nursing home based only on who has an available bed, and not based on the preference of the family or any research that has been done. In a case where the patient’s family is told at the last minute that the patient will be moved to nursing care in less than 24 hours, the family may want to consider appealing the hospital discharge. At the very least, this will buy the family a few more days to investigate nursing facilities.
To start looking for a home, I encourage you to contact the Alabama Department of Senior Services at 1-800-AGELINE (1-800-243-5463). They will put you in contact with your local Area Agency on Aging who can provide you with a list of nursing homes in your area. Once you receive a list of homes, you should look for one that is close to your own house. The closer a nursing home is to you, the more you will visit and the more you can monitor your parent’s care.
Go to visit the homes in your area. You may or may not want to make an appointment with the administrator. A “surprise” visit may give you a better idea of the day-to-day running of the nursing home. Most administrators will be happy to oblige you in a visit and will freely answer any concerns that you have. If they are not willing to assist you with a visit, this should be a red flag.
When you visit the home, be sure to take a look at the residents. Do they appear to be well-groomed? Residents that are clean and well-groomed and out in the open areas, like the dining room, the front porch or the community room are good signs. Do you smell urine or other odors in the air? While there may be odors in the air at times, a constant odor or the obvious cover up of constant odors can show a lack of care.
Does the home seem to protect the privacy of the residents? Can you see a resident being groomed or receiving assistance with their personal hygiene needs in an open area, or with his or her door open? If so, this does not show great respect for the privacy of the resident.
Check the public areas of the facility as well. Are the restrooms clean or in disarray? Go into the kitchen. Does the kitchen appear sanitary or dirty? Ask to have a meal with the residents. See how the food seems to be prepared and if it is appetizing for the residents. Is there a registered dietitian on staff who keeps up with the residents’ nutritional needs?
However, be aware that the look of the building itself does not take care of the residents. It is the people inside that make the difference. When you visit, the administrator or staff member that shows you around should be happy to help you. When you walk through the halls, is the administrator with you speaking to the residents as if she or he knows and converses with them regularly? Are the staff members you see personable towards both you and the residents? Often times an older smaller home may be able to provide a more personalized service for your parent than a larger newer home.
Medicare provides a website where all deficiencies a nursing home has received are listed. You can view this list by going to www.medicare.gov and clicking on “Compare the Nursing Homes In Your Area.” Review the deficiencies, but do not let the deficiencies alone deter you from selecting a home. A deficiency is a snap shot taken at the home at the time of the inspection, and may or may not be a good indication of the home overall. Instead, take the list of deficiencies to the administrator and see what he or she did to rectify the deficiency and assure it would not happen again.
Once you feel like you have narrowed the homes down to one or two that you really like, contact your local Ombudsman. You can get his or her name and number from The Alabama Department of Senior Services as well. An ombudsman is a person who acts on behalf of nursing home residents in your area. Ask his or her opinion of the nursing home and keep his or her name on record in case you have any questions or concerns in the future.
Finally, and most importantly, visit your parent on a regular basis once your parent is admitted to the nursing home. Your regular visits will give you the best picture of how your family member is being treated and cared for, and it will let your parent know how much you care.