It’s never easy to move into a nursing home, or help a loved one make the transition, but sometimes it may be the best option for getting the care and support you need. Here are some tips and useful resources to help you get started on how to choose a nursing home.

How do I find a nursing home in my area?

The first step in how to choose a nursing home starts with finding nursing homes in the most convenient area. In some cases, that may be near your home, but if family members are far away, you may want to consider a nursing home nearer to them.

Steps to consider according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services:

  • Ask people you trust, like friends and neighbors, if they recommend a particular nursing home.
  • Find out which nursing homes, if any, your doctor routinely visits, so you can continue to be seen by him or her.
  • Ask your local Area Agency on Aging for information on nursing homes in your area.
  • If you’re moving to a nursing home from the hospital, get your discharge team involved in the selection process.
  • Use the Nursing Home Compare tool on the Medicare website.

How do I know if the quality of care at a nursing home I’m considering?

The next step in how to choose a nursing home involves making sure that the ones you like actually provide a high quality of care. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, you can use Nursing Home Compare from Medicare to get a lot of useful information to help you make a decision. For example, you’ll see:

  • Star ratings, which are calculated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that give you a snapshot about how the nursing home performs on certain quality measures.
  • Staffing information, which tells you the number of licensed and credentialed staff available to care for the residents and hours per day spent with each resident.
  • Health and fire safety inspections
  • Quality of resident care including data on resident falls, urinary tract infections, and pressure ulcers
  • Penalties, which list any areas where inspectors identified a problem that wasn’t corrected in a timely manner.

You can also call the long-term care ombudsman in your area to get more detailed information about the nursing home you are considering.

Can I visit the nursing home before I decide?

A visit with any nursing home you are considering should be at the top of your “choosing a nursing home checklist.” Make an appointment before you go so you can meet with someone on the staff. It’s also a good idea to visit once or twice without an appointment to get a general feel for the facility.

Some things to ask according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS):

  • Are social, religious, and recreational activities that are important to you available?
  • If your doctor doesn’t visit, is there transportation available so you can continue to see the doctor of your choice?
  • What is the resident to staff ratio for certified nursing assistants and for licensed or registered nurses?
  • What types of therapy are available? Physical? Occupational? Speech and language? How often?
  • What is a typical menu like? Can you get snacks and drinks whenever you want them?
  • How is the preventive care and access to specialist care like eye doctors, dentists, and podiatrists?
  • Will I (or my loved one) get to decide when to get up, bathe, eat, and go to bed? What is the daily schedule?

What is the choosing a nursing home checklist?

This nursing home checklist can help you focus on things to observe during your visit says the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). This list is not complete, but it gives you some things to consider:

  • If the nursing home is Medicare certified (passed inspection conducted by the state government agency)
  • If there is licensed nursing staff available 24 hours a day
  • If the residents appear well groomed and well dressed for the season and time of day.
  • If there are any unpleasant odors.
  • The condition of resident’s rooms (windows, TV and telephone, personal, secure storage space).
  • If there are comfortable areas for visiting family and friends.
  • The availability and condition of any outdoor spaces for residents to enjoy.

Although there’s no surefire best-method on how to choose a nursing home, these steps should definitely help you find one that meets your needs as much as possible.

What happens after I choose a nursing home?

The last step on your “choosing a nursing home checklist” is to make arrangements for admission to the nursing home of your choice. You should have the following information available when you visit the admissions staff:

  • Insurance and financial information. Note that if you have Medicare or Medicaid, you cannot be required to pay a deposit on admission, according to CMS.
  • Medical information, including current medications, current health status, contact information for doctors who are treating you, and emergency family contact information. If you are being discharged from a hospital, your discharge staff will handle most of this for you.
  • Any advance directives such as a living will or durable power of attorney.
  • Money for a personal needs account, if one is available and you decide you want to open one.

Remember, your nursing home decision isn’t permanent and you aren’t required to stay in a nursing home that you aren’t happy with. Although moving can be a daunting task once you’re settled, it may be worth it to move if the nursing home you’re in isn’t meeting your needs.

Need more information on how to choose a nursing home?

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