You’ve decided your loved one needs the 24/7 supervision and medical care a nursing home provides. But how do you find the best fit?
Discovering the best match requires exploring locations, learning about a community’s culture, and finding a nursing home that offers personalized care, meals, and activities, says senior care professional Mark Pavlovich, owner of Yardstik Behavioral Analytics and chair of the workforce and customer experience committees at the American Health Care Association.
By understanding top characteristics to look for when touring, you can ask the right questions and simplify your search.
Often, there can be a lot of family guilt associated with moving a loved one into nursing homes, says Pavlovich. “It’s important to be prepared, and although it’s not always easy, you have to do what’s best for your loved one.”
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First, determine your loved one’s needs, priorities, and concerns. It can be helpful for families to perform a self-evaluation and ask:
Personalization and cleanliness are two important factors, but there are many others to consider, says Pavlovich. Families can make the decision-making process easier by taking tours, speaking to staff, and evaluating and comparing the following features in nursing homes.
It’s important for [staff] to know more about a person than just their health condition or disease.Mark Pavlovich, senior care professional and owner of Yardstik Behavioral Analytics
Nursing home services differ greatly around the country. If your loved one requires speech therapy, for example, but also has diabetes, or requires special assistance managing their diet, can the community tend to all of their specific needs? Find a community with a level of care that caters to your loved one’s unique requirements.
Medical services generally include:
Additional services include:
It’s important to know the cost of nursing home services and whether they fit your budget. In addition to care, be sure to find out what is — or isn’t— included in the cost. Families sometimes receive bills for services they didn’t know cost extra, says Pavlovich.
Although amenities like beauty salon services, podiatry services, or group outings are a plus, they typically cost more.
When exploring communities, be sure to ask:
Any nursing home that receives money from the government should pass an inspection by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. If a nursing home fails to pass inspection, it’s not certified. If applicable, ask the nursing home for their inspection report or certification.
Nursing homes provide a high level of on-site care, with staff supervision 24/7. Care providers include doctors, nurses, therapists, dietitians, certified nursing assistants, and more. Since staff is around or near residents at all times, it’s important to learn about their professional experience, problem-solving skills, training, and involvement with residents.
Always look for a meal board with alternatives, as well as community activities. If it doesn’t include three to four activities, seven days a week, it’s usually not a good sign.Mark Pavlovich, senior care professional and owner of Yardstik Behavioral Analytics
Pavlovich suggests asking personal “what if” questions that pertain to your loved one. For example, if they exhibit dementia behavior — wandering, acting out, or showing anger — how can staff deescalate difficult situations or manage these behaviors? If your loved one is a picky eater, can staff find alternatives or solutions to ensure they’re still able to eat a healthy and balanced diet?
Finding staff members that go the extra mile in getting to know your loved one can make a big difference in their quality of life in a nursing home. If you’re walking by rooms on a tour, ask staff if they’re able to share any fun facts about residents, says Pavlovich. “It’s important for them to know more about a person than just their health condition or disease,” he says.
Additional questions for staff may include:
Learning the ins and outs of care plans can ensure your loved one is in good hands both now and in case their health changes. When evaluating nursing homes, find out who creates, updates, and manages regular health care assessments.
Key questions about care plans include:
Safety is imperative to residents’ and families’ peace of mind. Leitson suggests evaluating the building’s security and asking how features can protect residents or alert staff of potential issues. For example, do you notice codes or locks on the doors? Do you notice uneven flooring or rugs that could potentially cause someone to fall? Are the fire exits clearly marked?
Additional safety questions include:
It’s common for nursing homes to offer group or personalized activities for residents. If your loved one has specific hobbies, be sure to ask how communities learn about their interests, get to know them one-on-one, and engage them.
“Always look for a meal board with alternatives, as well as community activities,” says Pavlovich. “If it doesn’t include three to four activities, seven days a week, it’s usually not a good sign. There should be a variety of activities for everyone — not just bingo — such as pet therapy, Monday Night Football, reading, arts and crafts, and more.”
Important questions to ask about activities include:
One of the most personal ways to gain a clearer understanding about how a community can help your family and loved one is to visit unexpectedly or call.
Prepare questions beforehand, take notes, and use your observations to compare communities to find the perfect fit. Pavlovich suggests asking the first person you see when you walk in to take a tour, and highly recommends visiting during meal times if possible to observe resident and staff interactions.
Ask yourself while touring:
Ask staff while touring:
When evaluating potential nursing homes, Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare Tool is a useful reference. It provides an easy way to compare nursing homes in your area. Begin by entering your ZIP code to select and compare nursing home quality ratings, health inspection details, and more.
Merritt Whitely is an editor at A Place for Mom. She developed health content for seniors at Hearing Charities of America and the National Hearing Aid Project. She’s also managed multiple print publications, blogs, and social media channels for seniors as the marketing manager at Sertoma, Inc.