Learn how to choose the right nursing home

CHICAGO—Choosing the right nursing home is an important decision that requires planning. Unfortunately, families often avoid the subject until the last minute before giving it any serious thought. As a result, they may end up with a hospital discharge planner telling them they have only one to two days to choose a nursing home for their loved one. To help families make the right decision, the Illinois Council on Long Term Care offers helpful recommendations on areas to examine during a facility tour.

“Just as families spend months choosing the right colleges for their children, the same attention to ‘doing one’s homework’ should be applied to choosing a nursing home,” said Terrence Sullivan, executive director of the Illinois Council on Long Term Care. “Families should visit several nursing homes in their areas to compare their environments, services and programs.”

The best time to visit a nursing home is early afternoon so that a family will be able to visit with staff and residents as well as observe the afternoon meal. When arriving at a nursing home, the family should ask to meet with the admissions director, who will answer any questions and conduct a full facility tour. The admissions director will also discuss the facility’s costs and explain all considerations regarding Medicare and Medicaid.

Touring a nursing home involves much more than simply evaluating how well it is decorated. Families need to assess the quality of care given to the residents. Do staff members interact well with the residents, and do they treat them with dignity? Are the residents’ requests being met promptly? Are the residents clean and well groomed? Do the residents seem happy and involved with facility life?

Bring a note pad and pen to write down both your positive and negative impressions. Taking notes will help you make a better decision. Also, be sure to talk with others—such as clergy, friends, doctors and neighbors—about their experiences regarding the nursing homes you are visiting.

Here are the Illinois Council’s suggested areas to consider when taking a tour of a nursing home:

1. Nursing: Take a good look at the residents. Are they clean? Have the men been shaven? Do the residents have clean, combed hair? Have their nails been trimmed? Are their clothes washed and tidy?

2. Environmental Considerations: Does the facility feel inviting and comfortable? Are the residents’ rooms and the common areas clean and neat? Are there homelike touches to enliven the environment?

3. Geography: Will it be easily accessible for family and friends to visit their loved one at this location? Is the center near preferred doctors and hospitals?

4. Financial: Will the financial status of the potential resident be a problem? What will happen if this individual runs out of funds and must go on Medicaid?

5. Diagnoses: How experienced is the facility in handling the residents’ diagnoses? Will the center be able to provide the appropriate care for the residents’ medical conditions? What kind of training has the staff received on these conditions?

6. Activities: Does the facility provide a wide variety of activities on the monthly calendar? How many activities are offered each day? Attend a facility activity—do the residents seem interested and involved? What opportunities exist for involvement with community organizations? What does the facility do to tailor their activities to the residents’ previous interests and backgrounds?

7. Dietary: How much variety is there on the monthly menu? Try one of the facility’s meals—how appetizing is the resident’s food? Are there enough staff members on hand to assist residents with their meals?

8. Housekeeping: Do you see housekeepers on hand to keep the facility neat and clean? Is there a consistent, widespread problem with odors? Look closely at the environment—how successfully is the facility keeping everything clean, neat and orderly?

9. Therapy: Ask the admissions director to describe the facility’s restorative and rehabilitation programs. Is the therapy room well equipped, and is therapy being provided? Request examples of how the facility has successfully promoted resident independence.

10. Resident Well-Being: Talk to the residents themselves about their satisfaction with the facility. Do the residents seem happy, trusting, comfortable and content?

For more detailed information on nursing home issues—including legal, financial and emotional considerations—be sure to visit the Illinois Council’s Web site at www.nursinghome.org. The site also contains a comprehensive directory of Illinois nursing homes with detailed descriptions of the helpful services they provide.

From the July 20-26, 2005, issue

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