My mother is a practical woman. Ever since I was a teenager, she has been giving me instructions on how to take care of her as she grows older. “Put me in a nursing home” is one of her directives that I balked at when I was younger. But, as I have learned more through my work with the Association of Skilled Nursing Providers and North American Health Care, I realize that, if I love my mother, a skilled nursing center—whether for short-term rehabilitation or long-term care—is what’s best for her if her health declines.
According to the most recent data available from the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 1.1 million Americans age 65 and older lived in nursing home in 2016. When it comes to nursing home care providers, the choices available are as varied as the people who live in them. Patients and their families often encounter difficulty when choosing a home. Frequently asked questions weigh on their minds.
“Where will Mom receive the highest quality care?”
"Where will Dad be treated like a resident, not just a patient?”
"How do I find the cleanest nursing home with the best food?"
Focusing on the following four core questions will help guide you during your search for quality nursing home care.
1. Where can I find accurate information on nursing homes in my area?
One of the main concerns families have is ensuring their loved ones will be safe and receive high-quality care. There are thousands of skilled care providers around the country and starting this search can seem daunting.
Media companies like Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report publish “best nursing home ratings” each year, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) website offers the renowned Care Compare tool. These resources may provide a good jumping off point, but rankings and star ratings alone can’t necessarily determine which nursing home is the best fit for your loved one.
The best way to choose a nursing home is to weigh performance data, such as staffing numbers, inspection findings and other reports, with what can be observed during in-person or virtual tours of facilities. You can use this detailed checklist to gather additional information while touring nursing homes in your area and create your own rating system based on the features and parameters that are important to you and your loved one.
2. Does my loved one need short-term rehabilitation or long-term care?
Elder care terminology can be confusing, but it’s important to understand exactly what kind of care your loved one requires to ensure you’re researching and touring the right kinds of facilities. The terms “skilled nursing facility” and “nursing home” are often used interchangeably, but they can mean different things in different contexts. This affects the length of a senior’s stay, the type of care they receive and how these things can be paid for.
Is your dad having a total hip replacement? Is Mom recovering from a heart attack? Is your husband healing from a wound that requires specialized wound care and around-the-clock supervision? These are all examples of diagnoses that typically require temporary post-acute care—a short-term stay for rehabilitation purposes—in a skilled nursing facility (SNF).
If you are looking to permanently move a loved one into a facility that provides 24/7 skilled nursing care, this is considered long-term care. You’ll want to look for extended care in a nursing home.
To make matters even more confusing, many elder care facilities offer both short-term senior rehab services as well as long-term care. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it is common for older adults who require rehabilitation following a medical setback to develop a need for long-term care. Just be sure to communicate openly and frequently with your loved one’s health care team to ensure you fully understand their current and future needs. Keep their diagnosis in mind, too. Some facilities specialize in caring for seniors with certain conditions or needs, such as stroke recovery or dementia care.
3. How will the staff communicate with me and my loved ones?
Close communication with a loved one’s health care providers is crucial for improving and maintaining their physical and mental health. You need a care facility that will work with you to develop a comprehensive care plan, evaluate and update it regularly, and report/implement changes in a timely manner.
Inquire about care plan meetings, responsiveness to phone calls/emails, and opportunities for engagement like family council meetings. You can also use this guide to learn about different staff members’ titles and responsibilities to facilitate communication with your loved one’s new care team: Who’s Who in Skilled Nursing: Staff Caregivers Should Get To Know.
4. What amenities are provided?
Nursing homes and SNFs vary widely in the amenities they offer. In many ways, these perks are just as important for an older adult’s overall well-being as top-notch medical care.
Some facilities provide individual televisions and telephones for each resident, Wi-Fi, and shared computer access. An assortment of activities and events is crucial for keeping seniors social and engaged as well. Many even hire chefs and dietitians to handle their residents’ nutritional needs. Be sure to inquire about these and other amenities that might be important to your loved one, such as private rooms, opportunities for outings, visitation policies, outdoor spaces and more.
I’ll probably still try to persuade my mom to live with me. But if she decides a nursing home is right for her, or if it becomes medically necessary, I feel comfortable knowing that there are great places out there that will provide excellent care in a knowledgeable, compassionate environment.