Dad and I didn’t have the time to “shop” for a nursing home for Mom. During the first two weeks of September 2005, I didn’t know that Mom had moved into full-blown Alzheimer’s; instead, I just dealt with the day-to-day issues that arose from Mom’s increasingly bizarre behavior as well as her breathing issues caused by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
When doctors finally decided that she needed a geriatric psychiatric evaluation, we as a family had to scramble since Mom had to be evaluated at a hospital in a city two hours away due to her fragile medical situation. Thus, we weren’t in town to scope out the different facilities. And the final challenge in finding a nursing home for Mom was availability since the nursing homes in the city where I live were filled by people who were displaced by both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Therefore, space – especially in nursing home Alzheimer’s units – was very limited.
So what would we have looked for if we had had the luxury of time? The New York Times has an informative article by Walecia Konrad entitled, “Stressful but Vital: Picking a Nursing Home.” Here are the article’s main suggestions:
- Use the data available from medicare.gov. This ratings, taken from health inspection data, staffing and quality measures, is calculated into an overall score of one to five stars.
- Visit prospective nursing homes several times. See what your first impressions are and also plan on having some probing interviews with the facility director and top medical staff. Also try to meet some of the families who have loved ones who reside in the facility.
- Seek information from other people in the community who might know about the nursing homes you’re considering.
- Contact the ombudsman for the nursing home, who serves as the advocate for nursing home patients.
I have a couple of thoughts based on this list. First of all, ratings can be helpful, but I still remember a comment by the hospital social worker who was working with us to try to place Mom. He told Dad and me that sometimes nursing homes that try innovative techniques to help those with dementia end up with lower ratings. Therefore, as a family member you need to think through what approach you want for a loved one. And if you do go to visit a facility that does have a lower ranking, be sure ask about their approach in order to see if this is the case.
Additionally, when you go to visit, please take a copy of the Nursing Home Checklist prepared by Medicare. The checklist is well set up and includes the following categories: basic information; resident appearance; staff; residents’ rooms; hallway, stairs, lounges, and bathrooms; menus and food; activities; and safety and care.
Being proactive in researching nursing homes is important, but can be difficult to time correctly. Unfortunately, other factors – such as those that Dad and I experienced in placing Mom – can throw off the best of plans. If possible, I’d encourage caregivers with loved ones who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease to go on and do some preliminary scouting. Believe me, that time spent doing early research won’t be a waste.