How to Pick a Good Nursing Home

It can be tough facing the gut-wrenching decision to place a loved one in a nursing home. Even when it comes to the point that they need more direct care than you can give them, it isn't easy to take that step. 

Much of the recent attention surrounding nursing homes has been negative. We regularly see new stories of nursing home abuse and negligence. None of us wants that for our loved ones but how do we avoid it? How do we make sure that our loved ones are well cared for?

A Little Work Up Front Can Save You A Lot of Heartache Down the Road

Nothing you can do will guarantee your loved one's quality care. However, taking some time to look into any nursing home you are considering is time well spent. The key is in knowing what to look for (and how to look for it).

When you're considering a nursing home, one of the first things you should do is pay the nursing home an unannounced visit. The way they respond to you when you show up to ask a few questions is a good indicator of the quality of their staff. If they don't want unannounced visitors, the natural question to ask is, "Why not? What are they hiding?"

There are two things you should do during your spontaneous visit.

  1. Observe. Are the residents up and about? Do they seem happy? How do the staff interact with the residents? Does it look like the facility has adequate staffing, or does it seem like a few people are scurrying about trying to do more work than they can handle? Is the facility neat and clean? Are the residents neat and clean? Does the facility feel more like a home than an institution?
  2. Schedule. You can't expect them to drop everything they're doing and give you a full tour (though if they offer, that's a plus). If you haven't already ruled them out, schedule a time to come back to look the facility over. 

Don't Be Afraid to Ask the Tough Questions

When you come back for a complete tour, be prepared to ask a lot of questions. Don't be afraid to ask tough, direct questions. Everyone in the nursing home industry is aware of neglect and abuse issues. If you find a representative of the nursing home you are considering who is hesitant to discuss these matters, find a different nursing home.

Some of the questions you should ask include: 

  • May I see your most recent public health survey results? By law, a nursing facility must have these posted. Look through them. The quality of care given at the facility will be largely evident in their health survey.
  • May I see this month's menu? Look over an actual menu. Is it healthy? Is it appealing? If you wouldn't want to eat from their menu, you won't want your loved ones stuck eating from it either. If you can arrange your visit during meal time, visit the dining facilities. Ask if you can sit in on a meal or visit the dining room during dinner. Ask to see the kitchen as well.
  • May I speak to some of the residents? It's only natural that some of the residents will be unhappy on any given day. If most of them are unhappy, however, or if the staff doesn't want you visiting them, that is an obvious warning sign. You might also consider speaking with any other family members who are visiting residents to get their opinion of the care given.
  • What is the ratio of staff to residents? Nurses to residents? The more staff (and especially nurses and nurse's aides) in relation to the number of residents, the better. Some nursing homes operate with as few as one staff member for 15 residents. Higher staffing ratios are one indication of better care. 
  • What training do you provide for (or require of) your staff? Many of the abuse and neglect issues in nursing homes stem from inadequate training. Be sure to ask about any staff members who provide direct care to the residents such as aides, transportation people, activities assistants, therapists, and volunteers. 

Additionally, you should ask plenty of questions regarding the care that will be given to your loved one in particular. You will want to know what to expect regarding treatment for any ailments or challenges they may have. It's your right to know of policies and procedures that may pertain to your loved one. 

In particular, you should ask about their restraint policy if this is likely to be an issue with your loved one. Most states have strict rules regarding restraining residents of a long-term care facility. Even raised bed rails are forbidden without an expressed physician's order and thorough documentation showing that many other interventions have failed to keep the resident safe before bed rails or other restraints are used. Make sure all policies and procedures are humane and that you are comfortable with them before placing your loved one in their care.

Look for Problem Areas

If you see anything you think might be something to worry about, trust your instincts. Ask questions, and don't be afraid to dig deeper into anything you're not comfortable with. 

Look for any signs that the staff is unable to give adequate care. Look for any signs of uncleanliness. If there are problems with the facility, it's best to uncover them now.

Take your time. You may be under pressure to find a quality facility in a hurry, but rushing the process is a mistake. A little extra time spent investigating nursing homes upfront can make a world of difference in the quality of care your loved one receives.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a problem with a nursing home, contact the lawyers at Sweeney Law Firm to learn your legal rights and see if you have a case. There is no cost or obligation for us to evaluate your case. The Sweeney Law Firm works on a contingency fee basis. There is never a fee unless a recovery is made for you.