Finding a Quality Nursing Home for Your Loved One

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • There’s been a lot of media coverage recently about nursing home quality. Having been forced into accepting nursing home care due to the combined effect of Mom’s deteriorating lungs and encroaching Alzheimer’s Disease, our family didn’t have a choice in the matter. But we also learned some important lessons about what to look for – and how to get quality service.

    At the geriatric psychiatric hospital where Mom initially was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the social worker helped us find a residence. The family initially wanted an assisted living community and arranged a visit with the manager of a recommended center in my area. After a long visit with Mom, the manager determined that the option for assisted living had come and gone. My mom needed skilled nursing on a 24/7 basis; she also was very vocal about her interest in leaving. Thus, we were worried that Mom would decide to walk out the door, forget where she was, and unknowingly get herself in even more serious trouble.
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    So with that decision, we knew that Mom was going to need to live in a nursing home, and preferably one with a secure unit. I remember talking to the hospital’s social worker as we explored options. My cousin had gone on-line to get the “accountability” ratings of nursing homes in my area. Upon hearing this, the social worker cautioned that, in his opinion, these ratings can be somewhat misleading. For instance, a facility that tries to offer progressive services may not have a high rating because of what areas are being measured. I’ve seen something similar happen during my time in working with public schools; the rating system can give you some information about the school, but you need to go into the school to see about the staff, the culture, and the services provided for yourself. Some schools that have the highest ratings do not have the caring environment where I would want to enroll a child.

    As we looked for a nursing home, we found there were limited choices of secure units in the area where I live. Thus, we had to settle for what was available and we proceeded to move Mom into the unit. The next challenge was going to be ensuring that Mom got a high level of care and was part of a caring environment.

    I have learned from working in public schools that a regular presence by family members can make a big difference. When Mom first moved to the nursing home, I made sure that I was a very visible part of Mom’s life on a daily basis. Because my schedule was flexible, I attempted to be seen regularly on every nursing shift. Thus, I met the morning nurse and aides, as well as the evening crew. They never knew when to expect my visit; thus, the staff never got complacent in the level of care they provided to Mom. I also got to know the nursing supervisor, as well as the nursing home’s executive director.

    Unfortunately, I found that a surprising number of residents of the secure unit didn’t have that same level of family support. Thus, some of the nursing home staff probably did the minimum for these residents. I, on the other hand, tried to make sure I expressed that our family had higher expectations for the staff (as well as for myself). When I visited, I asked multiple questions about how Mom was doing, provided guidance about Mom’s likes and dislikes, and pointed out when the staff’s service was not up to par. Thus, I may have not been the favorite family member in some staff members’ eyes, but they also knew they were going to see me when Mom had problems, as well as on good days. I hope that for the most part, we built a relationship of trust so that we could provide the best (and safest) environment for Mom as she dealt with her health issues.

  • Helping a loved one who has Alzheimer’s Disease move into and adjust to a nursing home is a difficult process. The caregiver needs to be vigilant in taking an active role so that staff members know that someone is watching over the loved one. Building a relationship with the nursing staff is critical. Find out who the other key staff members (such as the activity director or the hairdresser) are. Learn about the processes that are used at the nursing home. And most importantly, be present for your loved one on a regular basis. It’s that visibility that will make this difficult road just a little less bumpy.
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Published On: September 07, 2006