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Nursing Homes: Choose the Right One

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When a family comes to the realization that it can no longer care for a loved one, that new reality is often difficult to accept. Before family members decide to place a loved one in a nursing home, they should explore other options like home help, home health, and adult daycare. These options may be less expensive and more appropriate for a loved one than the twenty-four hour care that nursing homes provide. But if a nursing home is a family’s only option, a family can do several things to ensure that they make the right decision in selecting the right home for their loved ones.

Make a personal inspection.

Nothing substitutes for making a personal inspection of a nursing home. Families need to check things out for themselves and not rely on advertisements or telephone representatives. Families should visit homes, ask to see the residents’ rooms, activity areas, and kitchen and dining facilities. Are they clean, neat, and well maintained? Is there any evidence of water intrusion or bug infestation? Would this be a place where a family member would be content to stay long term?

Ask questions.

Accurate information is essential to making an informed choice about a nursing home. Inquire about the credentials of administrators and key caregivers. Find out what license the facility holds — superior, standard, or conditional. If the facility’s rating is not superior, ask why. Be wary of any facility whose rating is not superior. Have there been prior liability claims lodged against the facility? What were those claims for and what was the outcome? Are visitors permitted at times when family members can visit? Is visitation permitted in all areas of the facility? Are some areas off limits to visitors? Why? The list can go on and on. Families should make a list of questions before visiting the facility and they should receive satisfactory answers before making any final decisions.

Review state and federal surveys.

Nursing homes are inspected annually by state regulatory agencies for compliance with state and federal law. By law, these surveys must be made available for public inspection. Ask to see the latest surveys. They contain a wealth of information about care given by the nursing home to its residents and about the environment of the home. Have there been problems with bedsores? Infection control? Sanitation? The survey will help to identify problem areas in the facility. The importance of reviewing the surveys can’t be overstated. A recent report by the General Accounting Office found that more than 25 percent of surveyed facilities had deficiencies that caused actual harm to residents.

Check for smells.

A nursing home is a home and should be maintained as such. Well-maintained homes should not smell bad. If a home smells bad, find out why. Visit again before making a final decision to see if the smell persists. No one wants to spend twenty-four hours a day in a place that smells.

Look for smiles.

Does the staff appear happy and content with their work? If so, it should show on their countenance. Staff members who appear harried or stressed may be working without the necessary support or supplies. Ask staff members how they like their jobs. Their answers might be surprising.

Observe other residents.

Do they appear happy? If not, why not? Are they well cared for? The condition of residents themselves is often the best indication of the kind of care they are receiving.

Know the law.

The rights of nursing home residents are protected and enforceable under the law. Residents have a right to adequate healthcare, to live in a decent environment, and to be free from abuse and neglect. They have a right to be treated with consideration and respect, and with due recognition of personal dignity, individuality, and privacy. They have a right to retain and wear their own clothes. Nursing homes are required to inform residents of their legal rights and to furnish them with a copy of those rights. Secure a copy of the Bill of Rights for Nursing Home Residents before signing any contract.

Inquire of residents, family, and professionals.

Find out from other residents and their families what their experiences have been in the facility. Have their experiences been positive? If not, why not? Have corrections been made to the problems they encountered? Ask physicians and nurses about their experiences with the home. Would they put their mother or father in the nursing home under consideration? Also, ask a lawyer whether he or she has had experience with the home. If so, what has been the nature of that experience? History has a way of repeating itself. Know the history of the home before becoming a resident.

© Kenneth L. Connor. This article was reprinted with permission.


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