The best time to shop for a nursing home, is when you do not need one. If you wait until you can no longer safely or comfortably live on your own, you probably will not be in a position to do a lot of legwork to investigate facilities. Do your research well ahead of time, so you know the nursing homes in your area that provide high-quality care and, more importantly, the ones that have significant problems. Spotting nursing home problems is not always obvious, so here are some tips to help.
As you evaluate and compare facilities, you need to know how to spot problems at nursing homes. The marketing brochure, website and lobby might be lovely, but you should base your decision about a long-term care facility on much more data than those things. Here are some tips on how to dig for possible problems at nursing homes:
- Online search. Check out the nursing home’s website to get an overview of the services it offers and the industry affiliations or certifications it has. Look at the daily menus to see if the meals are nutritious and have enough variety. Most people would not enjoy eating the same main course two or three times a week. Look at the activities calendar to see if you would be happy with the planned social events. On some websites, you can view the floor plans of the resident rooms.
- Ask your primary care doctor to name a few facilities he would recommend for his parents, and those where he would not want them to live.
- Local Office on Aging location. Every state has an Office on Aging. Contact them to get as much information as you can about safety records, injuries, deaths, regulation violations and complaints about local nursing homes.
- Your state’s Long-term Care Ombudsman (LCO). Every state also has an Ombudsman who investigates allegations against nursing homes and advocates for the residents. Your state LCO should have a wealth of information about the facilities in your area. Spotting nursing home problems will be easier if you can rule out many from the start.
- State Online Database or Reporting System. Some states have online databases or collect reports about nursing homes.
- Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website. Medicare maintains an online tool, Nursing Home Compare, that provides detailed information on nursing homes. Every nursing home that gets any funding from Medicare or Medicaid is in this database. You can enter the name of a specific nursing home or search for all the facilities in a city or zip code. The tool includes information about abuse at long-term care facilities. On the webpage, you can explore the Special Focus Facility section to find nursing homes with a history of problems.
- Word of mouth. Ask your friends, relatives and neighbors to recommend a quality nursing home. Personal experience can be extremely valuable.
- Make a short list of the top candidates. After you collect as much information as you reasonably can, narrow your options down to four or five facilities that best meet your needs and preferences.
- Visit your top choices. There is no substitute for going to a nursing home and checking it out in person. Pay attention to the cleanliness of the place throughout, not just in the lobby. Give the facility the “sniff” test. Determine whether they use products to mask unpleasant odors, instead of cleaning thoroughly. See whether the residents are well-groomed and wearing fresh, clean clothes. Observe the interaction of the staff with the residents. Notice whether people who need assistance at mealtime, get the help they need without having to wait.
- Take online reviews with a grain of salt. Fake reviews are all over the internet. If you see a nursing home with only a few reviews, and they are all five stars, be skeptical.
- Make a checklist.
Once you gather this information, you will be ready in the event you need to stay in a nursing home for a short recuperation from surgery or longer term.
AARP. “Finding a Nursing Home: Don’t Wait Until You Need One to Do the Research.” (accessed December 5, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2019/finding-a-nursing-home.html
CMS. “Find a nursing home.” (accessed December 5, 2019) https://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html