One of the greatest worries, when we select long-term care for our family, is how to find the safest nursing homes (also called a residential care facility). We all want excellent care for our loved ones, but the cumbersome decision process can make you feel like it would be better to throw dice to make the final choice!
While there is no such thing as ‘a perfect’ facility, these three steps can guide the selection process and help you find a safe and comfortable residential care facility for your family member.
The Family Caregiver Alliance is my favorite resource for caregivers because it has some of the best information and links to service providers compared to any other site I have reviewed. Today I am sharing suggestions taken from the Alliance, as well as tips learned from my professional and personal experiences.
1. Find the Safest Nursing Homes: Do the Research the Old Way (Through Friends)
First of all, as odd as this will sound, you could consider shopping early to find comfortable residential care services. While we rarely shop for services we do not need this one might turn into a big time-saver if the need arises, especially if comfort is a priority.
You may recall that people did not use to pre-plan their funerals, but now it is considered a norm and very appreciated by family members. The same can occur when we select residential care facilities.
Unfortunately, as some of you have already experienced, the need for residential care seems to come up very suddenly. The sense of urgency alone can be nerve-racking.
In fact, one of the biggest problems with choosing a residential care facility is the timing (a common issue is that you may find a facility you love, but they do not have an opening). Consequently, you may feel like you need to make a decision immediately!
Pro-Tip: Do not let the feeling of urgency rush your decision-making process. Take your time!
When you begin your search for a facility, there is nothing better than a personal reference. Ask your friends and family members about their experiences and what residential care facilities they recommend. Make notes about concerns so you can check on those issues later in this process.
You will hear good and bad information about residential care facilities the same way you hear good and bad reviews about restaurants, hotels or other business establishments. Personal reviews are valuable information! Write these comments down and save for later.
2. Find the Safest Nursing Homes: Use the Internet
The next step is to go to the Internet. If you have a list of recommended residential care facilities, start by going to their websites. Identify what services and perks the facility may have to offer and compare it to the needs of your loved one. This review will quickly limit your options.
Typically, people will end up with 1-3 choices.
Many people will look at the distance from their home or workplace to the facility and make their decision based on this feature alone. Although I do agree that travel distance (especially if you will go 1-2 times daily) is an important point to consider, it should not be the only data you use to make your decision.
You may find that driving ten more miles could bring a night and day difference in care and comfort for your loved one!
Use Medicare Survey Information
Medicare representatives inspect residential care facilities on a regular and rotating basis. They make some visits announced, and others are unannounced.
Pro Tip: The Medicare inspection results are one of the few ways to compare facilities ‘apples to apples’.
What is helpful about this is that Medicare review results get reported electronically, and you have access to it. Using this information will give you sound decision-making knowledge!
Start by going to the Medicare.gov website. Scroll down a little bit, and you will see a link in the left column that says “Find Nursing Homes.”
When you click on this link, you will go to a page asking for a zip code or the facility name. Enter the zip code and hit search.
Now the treasure hunt begins!
The search will provide all of the residential care facilities within 25 miles of the center of the area code. They are listed based on the number of miles away from the zip code you entered.
As you scroll to the bottom of the page, you can choose your favorites to compare. At the very bottom, click the ‘compare now’ link to compare the inspection results of three nursing homes (residential care centers).
Medicare lists the inspection data by the name of the category. Here you can see how the facility did in their last review.
There are five categories rated from 1-5 stars, with five being the best.
The categories are:
- General Information
- Health & Fire Safety Inspection
- Quality Measures
Don’t Ignore Medicare Deficiencies if You Want to Find the Safest Nursing Homes
These categories all represent different things, but they are a reflection of how the facility provides care and services. You can click on each category to see why a service rated less than another, and this is where you need to take a critical view. Remember your friend’s concerns? Check on them here!
All of the categories are important.The surveyors look at everything from hiring people free of a history of abusing residents (background checks or references), to proper food handling, to the quality of standardized nursing care.
Your goal is to find a facility with the service and perks that will fit your loved-ones’ needs AND has higher inspection scores when compared to another.
Pro Tip: Inadequate or missing nursing care can mean an injury, illness, infection or death. It matters!
- A poorly marked medication could result in a drug administration error.
- Failure to give residents proper treatment to prevent new bed (pressure) sores or heal existing bed sores could lead to an infection, expensive antibiotics or a hospitalization.
- Failure to store, cook, and serve food safely and cleanly could result in illness.
- A poorly marked staffing measure could lead to a lack of personnel available to help someone up to the bathroom, causing an injury.
Deficiencies matter. They can be a direct reflection of the nursing care received in that facility.
How to Find the Safest Nursing Homes: Listen for ‘Clues’ While Planning Discharge
I have provided discharge planning (planning a transfer from a hospital to a residential care or skilled nursing setting) as a nurse. Moreover, I have worked with some amazing nurses and social workers who have significantly helped patients and family members while selecting residential care. (I remember being very proud of my co-workers many, many times).
Although the healthcare personnel is not allowed to tell the patient which ones are ‘the safe and comfortable residential care facilities,’ many will refer to the survey information and teach patients how to research the information to find it for themselves.
Furthermore, if you listen carefully for clues, some will gently guide you to places that better suit the services and perks the patient needs.
However, don’t just let someone talk you into going someplace different than what you are planning. Rather, listen to how the information is presented if you feel that someone is trying to steer you to another place.
Are they trying to drive you elsewhere to meet a patient need better?
Or is it because of distance?
Or maybe it is because that person is in a hurry?
Unfortunately, some healthcare providers are pressured to empty hospital beds quickly and will move patients to places regardless of the quality or need.
I have seen this professionally, and I have also personally experienced this when one of my loved-ones needed a residential care facility (in another state). When I brought up a poor inspection score, the social worker responded to me with a comment that I will never forget. “Yeah, but that is only a reflection of that day. We all have bad days.”
I know that could be true, but what if it is not just one day? Are you willing to risk the care of your family member? I am not.
3. Safe and Comfortable Residential Care: Make the On-site Visit
Finally, make an onsite visit. There is nothing better than to go and see the facility for yourself.
How does the environment feel?
What message do the facilities’ rooms and hallways send to you?
Do the employees love their residents?
Is it loud or quiet?
What sounds do you hear? Do you listen to the laughter of residents or yelling of staff?
What do you smell or see? Do you smell urine or the odor of cleaners?
How do the staff talk to the residents? How do the residents respond?
No matter what questions you ask, you will see it with your own eyes, hear it with your ears and feel the environment yourself. You will learn more than you expect by making an onsite visit. If anything seems off, trust your gut and dig deeper.
In conclusion, no, it is not a fun thing to have to have to choose residential care for your loved-one. Moreover, unfortunately, no, there is not a perfect facility.
However, there are things you can do, and tools you can use, to help you obtain information so you can make a choice with solid, sound information. Remember, take the time you need, use the Internet to find facilities in the proximity, use and don’t ignore the Medicare survey results and make an onsite visit. These strategies will help find one of safe and comfortable residential care for your loved one!
What of the above do you think is the most important about selecting safe and comfortable residential care? If you have chosen residential care, tell me about your experience. Please let me know and comment below!!