2010-04-08 / Community News

Finding A Nursing Home Takes Both Homework And Legwork

by Bob Moos, SW Regional Public Affairs officer for the Centers for

Medicare & Medicaid Services

Most people live in a state of denial about someday needing nursing home care. Yet some of us will, either because we’re recovering from an injury or an illness or because we can’t fend for ourselves at home anymore and require 24-7 skilled care.

Too often, families must find the right nursing home for a loved one at a moment’s notice, after some crisis or emergency. If only they had acknowledged the possibility and started sooner, they would have given themselves more control and spared themselves some stress. By planning ahead, families can consider all of their options.

Medicare covers some skilled nursing and rehabilitative care if a physician orders it after a hospital stay of at least three days. But Medicare, like most health insurance, generally doesn’t pay for long-term nursing home care.

Some people use long-term care insurance they’ve already purchased. Others initially pay out of their own pocket and eventually have to rely on Medicaid, the joint federal and state health program for people with limited incomes and resources.

Even under the best circumstances, choosing a nursing home can be trying. There are always many emotions at work. But if you do your research and take it one step at a time, you’ll be able to make an informed decision.

First, find the nursing homes in your area. Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare Web site - www.medicare.gov/nhcompare — can search for homes by city, county, state or ZIP code. But also ask for recommendations from friends, family or neighbors who may have had a loved one in a nursing home. If you’re in the hospital, the discharge planner or social worker can help.

Compare the nursing homes you’re considering.

The Nursing Home Compare Web site provides detailed information on recent health and safety inspections, nursing homes’ staffing and such quality measures as whether residents are in pain or losing weight. The site uses a fivestar rating system to help families understand the differences in the quality of care between nursing homes.

The Web site and rating system aren’t meant to be the final word on the subject, though. They’re just two guides to use with your other research. Talk to friends or, better yet, your physician. You also may want to call your state’s long-term care ombudsman to find out how many complaints have been lodged against particular nursing homes, what kinds of complaints they were and whether they’ve been resolved.

In Texas, the ombudsman’s number is 1-800-252-2412. Visit the nursing homes that seem promising.

Visit the nursing homes that interest you, or if you can’t, ask a friend or family member to visit for you. Make an appointment and think of the questions that are important to you. Can you have visitors at any time?

Can you choose what time to get up, go to sleep or bathe? Can you bring your pet? What if you don’t like what’s on the day’s menu?

Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare Web site contains a helpful checklist of questions that cover everything from care and safety to activities and food. Print it from your computer and take it with you on your visit.

Don’t be afraid to talk money. Get a copy of the nursing home’s schedule of charges to find out which services are included in the basic fee and which cost extra. Talk to residents and their family members about whether they’re satisfied with the care. And then make a second visit, at a different hour of the day from your first call.

Finally, choose the nursing home that best fits your individual needs. Trust your senses. If a nursing home doesn’t look clean or smell right, you may want to scratch it off your list. Once you make a choice, run it by people who understand your personal and health care needs, such as your family and doctor. And if you’re looking for a nursing home for someone else, be sure to include that person in the decision-making as much as possible.

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