Top 4 Tips in Choosing a Nursing Home

Cathy Barton | January 9, 2014

It is inevitable that someday you or someone you know may be faced with the decision of having to choose a nursing home for a parent or loved one. More often than not, this decision must be made quickly after a life changing event such as a fall or a sudden or worsened illness. By following the tips below you can alleviate some of the stress by knowing that you have made an educated decision for your loved one.

Tip 1:  Know the care level needed and expected outcome—can the skilled nursing home deliver all the levels of care your loved one may need?

Short-Term Rehabilitation—this is a service covered by Medicare after a 3 night hospital stay. This therapy driven program continues what began at the hospital with the goal of gaining the highest level of independence to return home.  In some cases it can also be a pre-planned stay covered by many insurance policies after an elective knee or hip surgery.

Respite Stay—some nursing homes have a respite stay program where the patient may still need medical oversight and additional therapy on a private pay room and board status.   In most cases the patient can stay after for up to 30 days after the short term rehabilitation. It can also be utilized for someone directly admitted from home with a doctor’s order.  This type of stay is a great resource when dealing with caregiver stress or as support service for the caregiving family.

Long Term Skilled Nursing Care—when medical oversight and monitoring is needed on regular basis.

Tip 2:  Quality of Care

Ask your friends, neighbors, church groups and work associates.  Ask the discharge planner at the hospital.  Word of mouth and reputation is a key indicator of the care that is delivered. Seeking guidance from a Geriatric Care Manager ( can be priceless for dealing with multiple concerns.  Using the website can tell you the quality measures of the nursing homes in your area as well as tips on how to shop for a nursing home—this should be combined with an actual visit and tour of the nursing homes.

Tip 3:  Visit and Tour

This first thing to do is use your senses!  What do you see—are the residents clean and well cared for?  Are they engaged with staff or in activities?  Does the staff know them by name?  Is the community clean and free of any odors?  What do you hear and feel as you walk through the community?  Most people can feel or sense the “personality” of the community within the first few minutes of being in the building.   Don’t be fooled by pretty curtains or furnishings that suite your taste—they are nice to look at but won’t come to the aid of your loved one when needed!

Tip 4:  Ask the Right Questions

Once you have narrowed down your choices with the above tips ask the nursing home about their staffing levels, training, food choices, activities and therapy availability.  Ask them how many Medicaid beds they have and if they will be able to age in place or if they will have to move again if their funds run out.

Often people look at location as the first choice but this is not always going to result in finding the right fit for a quality of life.   Choosing a skilled nursing home is about convenience but more importantly it holds the same value as choosing a home; their home—one where your loved one will receive the care and support for them and peace of mind for you.

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