Long-Term Care, Part 2: Smart Shopping for Nursing Homes

(If you’re looking for home and community alternatives to nursing homes first, check out Part 1.)

Vetting nursing homes is a little bit like trying to find the right house, friends, and employees all in one.

Here are some resources we want to share:

  1. Get a broad overview

Where do I start?”

Check out Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website for basic facts and official ratings. It includes every Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing home in the country, and you can search by location.

They’ve updated their 5-star rating system this past year to include more objective state health inspection data, not just self-reports. It rates nursing homes on statistics about staffing, including amount of time staff spends with residents; service quality, like infection rates and depression; and any penalties against the facility in recent years. There aren’t any written reviews, but it can give you a general sense. (The same system is used by the U.S. News Best Nursing Home search.)

Actually, over 1/3 of nursing homes have received low overall ratings (only 1-2 stars out of 5), so this can help narrow down your list. Non-profit nursing homes and smaller facilities tend to get higher ratings.

  1. Seek out more guidance

Where can I get more information or actually talk to someone in person?”

Aging & Disability Resource Centers and Area Agencies on Aging are state or local agencies. Find contact information for these offices at the Eldercare Locator. They can give you more information to figure out your needs and options. States also employ people called Long-Term Care Ombudsmen. Besides being advocates for residents in nursing homes, they can answer questions about facilities, like complaints or past performance, and compare nursing homes.

  1. Get a first-hand opinion

What should I look for when I visit?”

Seeing a place in person and getting recommendations from other people is definitely the best way to figure out personal fit. There are a lot of checklists online to help you assess nursing homes, but first consider the key qualities of where you’d want to live when you’re older:

  • Privacy: What are the living facilities like, and where do you spend most of your time?
  • Flexibility: What are the most important things for you to have control over (how you spend your time, personal space, what you eat, etc.?
  • Community and social activities: Can you do your favorite activities there?
  • Cleanliness
  • Quality and health of food
  • Accessibility to your family and friends
  • Pets
  • Safety and health inspections
  • Ease of getting medical care

Ultimately, it’s a combination of solid data-gathering and gut feeling that can help you find the best fit. Here at CAKE we’ll continue to post about ways to navigate the world of long-term care (including how to pay for it!).

Photo credit: Garry Knight

  1. Kaiser Foundation: Reading the Stars: Nursing Home Quality Star Ratings, Nationally and by State
  2. Medicare guide to choosing a nursing home or long-term care

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